County Press Editor
REFUGIO – After a detailed explanation of the town’s wastewater system failings, the Refugio City Council fired its wastewater manager on Tuesday night, April 8.
The town had received 18 Texas Commission on Environmental Quality citations on April 1.
And Gabriel Morales, the wastewater supervisor, fired the wastewater operator, Howard Jones, over the citations.
Jones opted for an open session to argue his position.
Jones said the wastewater system’s DO (dissolved oxygen) meter has been broken for eight months.
He said he told the council about it and his supervisors. He has had three supervisors during that period.
TCEQ inspector Travis Prater conducted a full inspection on April 1, and found the 18 issues.
Jones was accused of arguing with the inspector and insubordination.
“Yeah, I got upset,” Jones said. “Who wants a violation on their license?”
Because the DO was not working correctly, Jones said the previous supervisor Jose DeLeon told him to write in averaged numbers. Averaged numbers are not allowed on the DO meter readings.
“So you’re saying Jose DeLeon told you to falsify records? asked Council woman Karen Watts.
“Yeah. If you want to say that way,” Jones said.
Morales said he learned about wastewater systems from the bottom up. He added that he thought Jones knew what to do because he had a license.
The council took notice that on March 25, Jones applied for a street position with the city and wrote on his application the reason for leaving the wastewater system was because he “was not qualified.”
“Howard, I’ve learned that anything you do, you have to study,” said Councilman Dale Skrobarcek.
Councilman Lenny Anzaldua said he felt like the council was a “little at fault,” acknowledging it knew about the faulty DO. But he said he was leaning toward termination.
Frank Hosey pointed out that Morales had only been on the job for a little more than two months while Jones had been there more than a year.
Morales pointed out that Jones has a license, and the he figured he knew what he was doing.
“Do you have any fault in this?” asked Watts.
She noted Jones blamed a former supervisor and equipment for the citations.
“Do you take any responsibility?” Skrobarcek asked.
Jones said he did the best he could do at maintenance and record keeping.
“You should have taken responsibility and said ‘No, I ain’t going to do it,” Skrobarcek said.
“Yeah, there’s some fault in there from me, but I’m not going to take the whole barrel of it,” Jones said.
Skrobarcek made the motion to terminate Jones. Watts seconded.
Skrobarcek, Watts and Anzaldua voted to terminate while Hosey and Dukes abstained from the vote.
The TCEQ issues included these violations:
1. Failed to report any permitted exceedance by more than 40 percent in writing within five days.
2. Failed to submit quarterly report by the 15th and include provisions of the permit.
3. Faled to submit a complete copy of the annual sludge report as per permit.
4. Failed to monitor PH within 15 minutes and correctly sample for chlorine.
5. Failed to maintain adequate monitoring records to include sampler, times and more.
6. Failed to properly operate the plant.
7. Failed to maintain a chlorine residual in the effluent.
8. Failed to prevent the discharge of solids at the outfall. Need to remove all solids as soon as possible and provide notification.
Mayor Joey Heard said Wilco was helping clean up the discharge currently at the creek. Morales added that they have been cleaning up the discarge for three days.
9. Failed to properly store samples (refrigerator needs thermometer or samples be placed on ice).
10. Failed to properly maintain grit and solids removal.
11. Failed to monitor dissolved oxygen.
12. Regulated entity allowed an unlicensed individual to perform duties that should only be performed by a licensed individual.
13. Regulated entity falsified the discharge monitoring reports (DMRs) for dissolved oxygen.
14. Failed to prevent the discharge of untreated effluent. the facility bypassed the chlorine contact chamber and discharged at the outfall.
In addition, the TCEQ made records requests:
1. Backflow device certified for WWTP.
2. Chemtex chain of custody for last two months.
3. DO results for previous six months (operator daily records).
4. Documentation of the bypass that occurred in February by April 7.