City, developers fight over effluent discharge rights

by Anita Miller

Big changes are coming along the San Marcos River downstream from the city. FM 110, initially envisioned as an eastern loop around San Marcos, is now going in between Staples Road and SH 80, with the San Marcos River bridge currently under construction. When finished, the new road will stretch from SH 123 north to Yarrington Road near Kyle, where it will join Interstate 35. As it does, it will open up a lot of previously inaccessible acreage.

Much of the newly-accessible land on the Guadalupe County side of the river will be put to industrial use. North of SH 80 in the city of San Marcos ETJ, Heavy Industrial zoning already exists on land annexed in 2018 before the SMART (San Marcos, Air, Rail and Truck) Terminal failed to materialize after a dispute with Martindale delayed plans and the premier tenant pulled out.

But industry is not all that’s in store for the area.

A handful of planned residential developments will eventually bring thousands of homes, and all but one of the projects are outside the city limits and wastewater infrastructure — though very near the San Marcos River and its tributaries.

The Mayan, a new development, will eventually have 1,600 housing units on the old Hillert Tract, a narrow strip of land stretching from the river south to Staples Road. It was most recently used to graze cattle and has changed hands numerous times over the years. It was annexed by San Marcos in 2008 at the request of its owner at the time.

That annexation is being fought by the developers and a lawsuit which involves the cities of Martindale and San Marcos, was filed April 2018 in district court of Guadalupe County. A special called virtual meeting of the San Marcos City Council will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday to consider settlement negotiations and other pending claims.

Should the property be taken out of the San Marcos ETJ, per the lawsuit, local developers are considering how effluent would be treated.

The Mayan’s current owners along with nearby developers are reticent about the cost of tying into the San Marcos Wastewater Treatment Plant. Nearby developments include River Bend Ranch (2,070 living unit equivalents), Riley’s Point (2,070 LUEs) and Fleming Farms (329 LUEs). Instead of tying into the treatment plant, the developers expressed interest in having their own “package plants,” small water treatment facilities that would be allowed much less stringent standards in their effluent, which they would be able to discharge into any nearby body of water.

The San Marcos City Council is looking at available options, and held a work meeting analyzing residential construction in its ETJ and the availability and effectiveness of financial incentives including creation of public improvement districts (PIDs) and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (TIRZs). A city moratorium on any further financial incentives for future residential developments expires Nov. 17.

The River Bend Ranch project, which will hug CR 266, is planned for the Baugh Ranch in far southeast Hays County. Although the San Marcos River Retreat is just across the river, landowner Tom Goynes is unsure if he even has the legal standing to be a party in a contested case hearing on the application for a Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (TPDES) permit.

Goynes hand-delivered a letter requesting a hearing to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on March 3, and asks that if the permit is grant, provisions be added to treat effluent to a level so that is can be used to water lawns, fight fires and used in toilets.

For legal standing TCEQ requires a party to be within a mile downstream of the discharge point. In the case of River Bend Ranch, the receiving creek runs for more than a mile before entering the river.

Further downstream, the Cherryville development would have up to 30,000 homes and is seeking a permit to discharge into a creek that enters the San Marcos River at Fentress. Those in opposition are asking that the plants treat effluent to the same or stricter standards as the city of San Marcos.

The San Marcos River Foundation (SMRF) has joined the Cherryville fight. SMRF Executive Director Virginia Parker Condie said their main issue is water quality. Because package plants are not manned around the clock, she said. when something like a leak occurs, it can go on for a long time undetected.

“Little plants always go awry,” Goynes said,” and all of a sudden you have raw sewage in the river and kids are swimming in some bad stuff.”

“We hope the city of San Marcos will actually win out,” Goynes said. “It’s best if they can pull it off. They spent a fortune on the sewer plant, let’s use it.” If River Bend Ranch and the Mayan both opted to tie into the municipal system, he noted, it would reduce the cost for each entity. He said in addition to his own request for a hearing, San Marcos has also asked for one but TCEQ has as yet made no ruling.

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