Concerns grow over $120K pipe boring under creek

A letter from Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials to Wimberley engineering consultants indicates the city’s change of scope for its wastewater plant might not be doing enough to protect the environment.

The 14-page letter comes just a month before the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is projected to make a decision on the city’s change of scope for its wastewater project, which includes a crucial $5.5 million grant to fund the facility.

But the installation of a pipe under Cypress Creek might prove to be costlier than the city anticipated, per TPWD officials.

According to the letter, the TPWD is recommending that the entrance and exit points for drilling be located at least 500-feet from the streambed, which is approximately 300 to 400 feet short of the distance the city originally anticipated to drill, according to its report.

Originally anticipated to cost the city around $30,000, the recommendation would drive costs to around $120,000.

“Due to the environmentally sensitive nature of the project area, TPWD also recommends installing secondary containment around the pipeline to ensure protection of the Edwards Aquifer as well as any rare or protected species that may inhabit Cypress Creek,” the letter read.

City Administrator Shawn Cox said 600 feet of boring would equate to around $120,000, or $200 a linear foot. These numbers are estimates and might vary once the city receives a bid for the project.

Logistics and pricing of the proposed pipe led to debate between Wimberley council members during the Feb. 7 meeting.

Mayor Susan Jaggers said the recommendation from the TPWD would significantly raise the cost of the boring.

“Whether it’s 200 feet or 300 feet, they (TPWD) provided a recommendation, not a requirement,” Jaggers said. “If we can’t afford a recommendation and don’t have it as a requirement, it gets down to what we can afford.”

Council member Allison Davis said when the city voted to change the scope of the project, they promised to protect the environment to highest scrutiny.

Davis argued that the city-owned wastewater plant, which had a discharge permit through Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), was not anticipated to discharge for “decades,” based on the city’s storage capacity for treated wastewater.

“This council needs to protect the environment to the highest possible standard and all they (TPWD) are asking for is setbacks and double piping, and the citizens have called for sensors,” Davis said. “And I said this back in August when we voted to change the scope.”

Under the current plan, the boring is a single-pipe pipeline with 100- to 200-foot setbacks.

The letter also outlines recommendations for protecting endangered species like the Golden-Cheeked Warbler, a migratory bird that calls Central Texas home throughout the year.

Throughout the discussion, Jaggers insisted the boring does not cross any vegetation or environmentally sensitive land near Cypress Creek, and follows strict standards.

Steve Thurber, Wimberley resident and former mayor who has opposed the change of scope plan, said he doesn’t think the city can address concerns in the 14-page letter by the time the TWDB takes up the change of scope request later this month.

“The city would be remiss to not address these issues and it is obvious to me, from the letter, that the two agencies are coordinating together about these environmental issues,” Thurber said. “My feeling is that the water development board will find it difficult to issue the change of scope if the city does not satisfy these recommendations.”

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