Developer withdraws wastewater plant permit from Dripping Springs

By Sahar Chmais
Following protests from environmental groups and concerned local residents, Dripping Springs property owner Stephen Cleveland withdrew his application for a wastewater treatment plant.
According to a press release from Save Barton Springs Association, Cleveland wrote an email to TCEQ stating that, “after hearing all the impassioned people in the meeting last night, our family has decided to ask that our application be withdrawn.”
The reason for the withdrawal may have been legal, not based on the protests.
One day after the city of Dripping Springs requested a hearing regarding the permit, Cleveland withdrew his request.
In 2017, Cleveland applied for the plant’s permit for his 17-acre commercial property located on the southwest corner of US 290 and Sawyer Ranch Road. When the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issued a draft permit in April 2021, residents living near the Long Branch Creek made an uproar about the environmental issues the plant allegedly  could cause. The permit would allow disposal of up to 45,000 gallons of effluent a day.
Ron Johnson along with other protestors said they are not against development and did not want to stunt the growth of businesses, but the effects of the waste could ruin Long Branch Creek, a tributary of Barton Creek. The waste could contain levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, elements usually found in fertilizer, which would feed algae growth.
Not only does this affect the aesthetics of the pristine waters with overpopulated green bits floating in the water, it could degrade the quality of water for animals and humans, said Chris Herrington, an environmental officer with the city of Austin.
The stringy algae would change the fish habitat and the nutrients in the waters, affecting the animals who depend on it. When the algae dies and decomposes, it would lower oxygen levels in the water, Herrington said.
Besides these environmental repercussions, residents of the Polo Club, a neighborhood located at the first dumpsite location, were worried about the damages this would have on their children.
Parents said their kids always go out to play in the five ponds and the creek in the neighborhood. One parent asked if it would be appropriate to let her child play in partially treated sewage. Others were worried that they could no longer fish in these waters. And many were concerned about the odor this plant would cause.
Dripping Springs also had issues with the permit. On April 20, the city requested a contested hearing from TCEQ. The city and Cleveland entered into a Municipal Services Agreement on Sept. 8, 2020. The agreement states that upon annexation, the property owner should either: withdraw its application with the TCEQ TPDES application, or enter into a separate agreement with the city regarding, but not limited to, treatment levels and beneficial reuse of the property’s wastewater.
On Sept. 8, 2020, the property was annexed by the city. It was not until April 21, 2021 that Cleveland withdrew his permit application, one day after the city issued its contested hearing request.
One day prior to removing his permit request, Cleveland spoke at a TCEQ meeting regarding the issue and said he wanted the permit for the plant because that is the cheapest option for his property.
Other methods of wastewater disposal exist and surrounding businesses use these practices. The most common methods would be to irrigate land using the treated waste, or install a septic system. Cleveland claimed that these alternative practices would cost him an estimated $2 million.
While Cleveland was not willing to pay the estimated amount, property owners in the Polo Club said that his decision threathens their homesites. Homeowners in the neighborhood with ponds backing up to their property own parts of the ponds, Henry Wischmeyer said.
Many residents and the city said they have a vested interest in the case.
“The city has a unique and personal interest in this matter that is not common to members of the general public because,” the Dripping Springs hearing statement read, “1) the property is within the City Limits, and the City has an interest in preserving and protecting the environment within its City Limits; 2) the City has an enforceable contract with the landowner concerning the matter identified above; and 3) City Code of Ordinances 22.06.001 (quoted above) gives it an interest in promoting its policy within the City limits.”
The Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch contacted Cleveland to get a statement on his decision, but Clevelanddid not respond as of press deadline.

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Sahar Chmais holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She has been covering cities in Hays County for one year, touching on residents' struggles and successes, city issues, COVID-19 and more. Prior to reporting on the local spectrum, Sahar reported for a national news organization, covering gun violence. Sahar enjoys working as a local reporter because she gets to work with real people and their stories.

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