The action happened at the July 9 meeting of the Kenedy City Council.
City Manager Ford Patton told the council that he was contacted in late April by TCEQ about some sample and permit violations that occurred at the wastewater treatment plant.
Patton said since then he has made an effort to coordinate with Veolia Water, the company that contracts water and wastewater services for the city, to provide an explanation for TCEQ and hopefully demonstrate the city’s good faith effort, in order to reduce the anticipated monetary fine as a result of the violations.
“I guess I was maybe somewhat successful in that the total fine would have amounted to in excess of $37,000 and they have reduced that to $30,000,” Patton said. “We have gone back and forth over the various violations. You can’t argue that they didn’t occur. They did.”
Patton recommended that the city accept and authorize execution of the proposed agreement, including payment of the fine.
Veolia Project Manager Ron DeLeon spoke to the council about the situation.
“Our corporate has not given official word,” DeLeon said. “But in our contract it does state that we incur all dollars in instances such as this.”
DeLeon said he did not believe Veolia would fight the fine in court.
Mayor Randy Garza said that it is the city’s responsibility to pay the fine, not Veolia, since the facility is owned and operated by the city. However, he said that Veolia is expected to reimburse the city for the amount of the fine.
City Attorney Craig McAda recommended that the city ask Veolia to put something in writing stating that they don’t intend to challenge the fine.
“I think we ought to go on and pay the fine with TCEQ,” Said Councilman H. J. Kolinek, adding that the city may pursue reimbursement from Veolia at a later date.
Kolinek made a motion to pay the fine which was seconded by Councilman Bob Patton and passed by the council.
In an interview after the meeting, City Manager Ford Patton explained that the water released from the city’s wastewater treatment facility had exceeded the maximum allowable levels of certain substances.
The city’s system, which discharges treated water into the Escondido Creek, had levels of Ammonia Nitrogen and Chlorine that were unacceptable high on two occasions, and levels of E. coli that were unacceptably high on another occasion.
Patton described the problems as isolated incidents, that happened as a result of maintenance work being done at the plant on the same dates the high levels were detected in samples. The incidents happened in 2012.
“They set the rules,” Patton said, regarding TCEQ standards. “The rules all have good intent. But it can get difficult, and sometimes, there are circumstances that come up, such as cleaning out the belt press unit. You have got to do it, but the effect of putting that back in the treatment stream, you never really know.”
Patton said he expected that Veolia Water, the company that operates the city’s water and wastewater systems would fully reimburse the city for the fine, as that is what the company’s contract called for.
When asked if he was satisfied with Veolia’s operations in Kenedy, Patton acknowledged that there has been some frustration and dissatisfaction expressed by members of the city council, but he believes the quality of service has recently improved as a result of staffing and organizational changes.
“I have noticed some improvement,” Patton said.
The City of Kenedy signed a 13-year contract with Veolia in January of 2003. Although the contract does not expire until December 2015, the city, for the first time since the contract was originally signed, will have the option this December of renewing the contract or choosing not to renew the contract.
Patton said he is uncertain about whether or not he will recommend renewal of the contract, but ultimately it is a decision the city council will make.
“It’s a pretty big task,” Patton said regarding the idea of returning to the days of having the city manage and operate its own water and wastewater systems.
Another option, Patton explained, would be to contract with a different company that offers similar services.
“There are others in the same business,” Patton said, adding that those companies may get the opportunity before the end of the year to present proposals for consideration by the city council.