Wastewater provider Aqua Texas was calling it quits in Wimberley, which would have been a major blow for Wimberley Mayor Susan Jaggers.
But after a long meeting, the company is reconsidering working with the city as the third-party wastewater provider, which would potentially save the sewer project altogether.
Aqua Texas’ attorneys contacted the city with the news, prompting a meeting with Mayor Pro Team Rebecca Minnick, Councilmember Gary Barchfeld, City Administrator Shawn Cox and Aqua Texas President Robert Laughman.
“I want to be clear and transparent about when we have these kinds of meetings,” Minnick said. “…I think what we accomplished in that meeting was that there is common ground.”
To comprise with Aqua Texas, Minnick said the city will look at moving the boring under Cypress Creek on city-owned property rather than the location originally promoted by Jaggers.
The boring will transport raw sewage to Aqua Texas for treatment, causing anguish for local environmentalists. However, a bigger problem emerged with the boring’s location.
On March 21, the previous city council approved the de-annexation of Sabino Ranch, a 96-acre tract of land which is adjacent to the original boring site.
Subsequently, the de-annexation led to a lawsuit by former Mayor Steve Thurber, alleging a quid pro quo between the city and property owner Scott Johnson.
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) approved the change of scope for the wastewater project only if the city council fulfills four contingencies. One of these was an easement for the pipe.
Laughman, Barchfeld and Cox confirmed no easement across the creek from the Johnson property exists.
A new boring on Cypress Creek
The meeting between Minnick, Barchfeld, Cox and Laughman may have done more than just save the wastewater project altogether. Minnick said the new location for the boring on city-owned property is at a narrower portion of the creek at the end of Blue Hole Lane.
“If you bore under there, you end on city property on the other side,” Minnick said. “What this does is enables the city to negotiate the easement on the other side. What’s happening now, is we have no easement between Aqua Texas and the property owners from the original bore…”
The city would front the bill for the cost of the pipe to the lift station by Mill Race. If the city pays for the pipe, Aqua Texas will eliminate a $300,000 payment it previously required for a hook-up fee.
The “new” location was first proposed by the city engineer over a year ago, but was rejected by the mayor.
Councilmember Christine Byrne questioned why the new proposed location, which could be more affordable, wasn’t discussed initially.
Cox said the city engineer was given direction to look at a different location.
“He did say that, madam Mayor, you did know about this crossing and it was said we were going through Sabino Ranch, and I’m wondering why,” Byrne said.
Jaggers did not respond.
But with the new boring some inevitable challenges arise. It is not known at this time if the new location will require approval from the TWDB, which could prove to be challenging for a board that is growing impatient with the city.
Additionally, the city would need to negotiate agreements with property owners to acquire the easement at the new location.
Aqua Texas agreed to a 30-day notice to terminate the current agreement. Previously, the company was asking for a 40-year contract with a penalty of $275,000 if the contract was broken within the first five years.
Minnick said this past year working on the project “damaged relationships” with the TWDB, business community, citizens, vendors, contractors and councilmembers alike.
“I think this approach, while it’s not ideal, it’s not perfect, but does present a path forward that allows the council, business and the community the breathing room to come together for some kind of a solution that gets us where we want to be,” she said.