A $200,000 fee is the amount the city of Wimberley will pay contractor Black Castle after terminating plans for a city-owned wastewater facility.
In August 2018, the Wimberley City Council voted to terminate a contract with Black Castle for the facility, leading to six-plus months of closed-door discussions with the entity regarding the issue.
According to city officials, the $200,000 termination fee is the best deal the city could have hoped to get.
But the contract termination does not account for the nearly $350,000 the city had paid Black Castle to start on construction of the plant. So far, Wimberley will have spent more than $500,000 on the Black Castle contract.
The city has not confirmed if the $200,000 includes site mitigation and attorney fees, which, according to some residents in close contact with the News-Dispatch, could raise the bill a little more.
Council member Gary Barchfeld argued the city would save around $160,000 per year by switching away from a city-owned wastewater treatment plant to third-party wastewater provider Aqua Texas, which he estimated would cost the city $52,000 a year to maintain.
Barchfeld said $200,000 is “a lot of money” and that the city has to be “good stewards of the public’s money.”
“This brings savings to the city of $160,000 for what Aqua Texas would cost,” Barchfeld said.
Barchfeld said Wimberley’s city attorney did a good job in negotiations with Black Castle. The $200,000 termination is a mutual release which protects the city from subcontractors and any amounts owed to Black Castle.
However, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) has not approved the city’s change of scope for the wastewater plant, which includes a crucial $5.5 million to fund the facility. Officials at the TWDB could not comment on when the board would vote to approve or disapprove the change.
“I agree this is better than some anticipated, but it’s still a half a million dollars,” said Council member Allison Davis. “And there is no approved plan to go forward at the moment. I think this decision is premature. I’ve heard no word from the Texas Water Development Board that the path we are going to take is okay. So what happens if it doesn’t?”
Although city officials have not mentioned in writing which entity will be responsible for the wastewater treatment plant, Aqua Texas has been mentioned on the record at numerous council meetings as the only third-party option in discussion with the city.
In conjunction with the Black Castle termination, the Wimberley City Council voted to send a letter to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) updating the state agency on its intent not to renew its wastewater discharge permit.
But the move did not come without question, as members of the community did not understand why the city intended to send the letter when the permit doesn’t expire until July 2019.
Wimberley resident and attorney Jimmy Alan Hall advised the council to wait until the permit expires to give notice to TCEQ since the city has not outlined its plan for the future of the wastewater system.
Wimberley property owner Andrew Weber said there is no deadline to get the letter sent.
“The letter as proposed states as if it’s already a done deal that the city is contracting with Aqua Texas,” Weber said. “With all due respect, that’s the topic of a [Jan. 8] public hearing and you don’t have any consent from the water development board to change the agenda or to change the scope or do anything else. It’s extremely premature at best.”
Weber said that, considering a public hearing was scheduled to be held just five days after the council meeting, calling for the Black Castle vote and sending the letter to TCEQ is premature.
Council member Craig Fore said he understands that the permit does not expire until July, but wants the city to be proactive in letting TCEQ know its intent going forward with the permit.
Davis fought to postpone the vote until an agreement is made in writing with Aqua Texas in an attempt to alleviate residents’ worries. Other council members opposed the idea.
Fore argued that the letter is simply “a letter of intent, and is not asking to cancel (the permit).”