This Thursday's 6 p.m. City Council meeting is crucial for Wimberley's future. Council members will:
1. Hear a proposal by Aqua Texas President Robert Laughman for Aqua Texas to take over Wimberley's wastewater system, a proposal that would take much of the control of Wimberley's future away from the people of Wimberley and give it to Aqua Texas, a publicly traded, for-profit company, and its shareholders. This would almost certainly cost Wimberley businesses much more than the proposed City-managed system. (Agenda Item 3) Voting on this issue is not on Thursday's agenda, but this public presentation makes that possible at another meeting.
2. Vote to either accept a $1 million grant to the city from the US Economic Development Administration (EDA) which would greatly reduce the city's cost in building its already planned Wastewater Sewer System -- a grant that will save Wimberley downtown business a large portion of their costs -- or turn down the grant, refuse the money, so the city can turn the system over to Aqua Texas. (Agenda Item 5B)
Take a one-question money quiz
You are finally ready to build your dream home, and someone offers you $1 million (it's a very nice dream home) to reduce the cost, and someone else offers you a very low-interest $5.5 million loan to make it even easier. And the home will be all yours, to do with as you think is best for you.
You plan it to perfection and are almost ready to build. Then someone else comes along and says "Wait, let me handle your utilities. You will still have to build and pay for the house. You will not get the free $1 million to cut your costs. And you won't get that big juicy low-interest loan to reduce payments.
"And, by the way, I'll own the house, and be able to control the future of your neighborhood."
Would you take that deal?
That is essentially what the City is being asked to consider. To either accept that money -- before Nov. 1 -- and get on with building this long-overdue and desperately needed sewer system. Or to turn down the money and go with Aqua Texas. We'd still have to pay for and build -- without the grant or low-interest loan -- the most expensive part of the system: the underground piping to connect all the buildings and to carry sewage away, which costs far more than the plant itself. We would no longer get the cleaned water to nourish Blue Hole Regional Park.
"City gets $1 million grant for sewer system"
You saw that headline atop the Oct. 13 Wimberley View. It's finally official. The million dollars is Wimberley's for the accepting, if we accept it by the end of this month. There is no downside or bad side to the grant, despite some last-minute attempts to confuse the issue by some opposed to the Wimberley System.
The City has already been approved for a $5.5 million low-interest loan for construction of the sewer system from The Texas Water Development Board.
BUT all that money depends on the city building its own sewer system and high-quality effluent plant. Mayor Mac McCullough and City Manager Don Ferguson have confirmed in council that the grant absolutely disappears if the city gives its sewer system control over to Aqua Texas (or anyone else). Plus all the money already spent - thanks to a $650,000 loan - on engineering plans, is lost. Not to mention literally thousands of city and volunteer work hours spent in over a decade of planning, council meetings, committee studies and the like.
Why? Because, to get those offers, Wimberley has to build and control its own water system and keep its CCN.
What the heck is a CCN, and why should you care?
Wimberley's CCN is a huge part of what Aqua Texas wants in a deal with Wimberley. It appears to be what Aqua Texas -- and many of those working behind the scenes to stop the Wimberley Wastewater System -- really wanted all along. If Wimberley abandons its CCN, Aqua Texas can acquire it.
From the website of the Public Utility Commission of Texas; "A Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN) gives a CCN holder the exclusive right to provide retail water and/or sewer utility service to an identified geographic area." That means the owner of the CCN has significant power to control growth, either directly or through influence. Right now, the City has the CCN for much of Wimberley, including downtown and along RR 12 to the Junction. That means that "We, the City" can control our own fate, our water facilities, our growth and pricing.
Abandoning our CCN to Aqua Texas would make way for quick and major BIG GROWTH, especially along Ranch Road 12 south of town. The whole Dripping Springs fiasco. Big box stores (there's already one pounding to get in along RR 12), huge condominium developments, chain motels and fast-food restaurants. Growth that would also be an additional demand on our aquifer. Mr. Laughman recently told members of City Council Aqua Texas would work to spur development. It's what they do.
It would mean higher sewer rates for the current downtown residents, and for future residents.
It means -- and do not under-estimate this -- would-be developers of some large land areas inside Wimberley will find it much easier to bypass Wimberley regulations that prevent or control large developments. The city would lose its very important ability to prevent large developments from getting utilities, a key way to control rapid, large developments. So far, the City has been successful at preventing rampant big developments by telling such projects to pay up front for their utility costs. Aqua Texas doesn't do that; they are concerned with adding big, paying customers, not in protecting the quality and lifestyle of Wimberley.
CARD and your Woodcreek and Kyle friends have told you many reasons to be worried about Aqua Texas taking over Wimberley water and having power in our community.
"Wastewater" is valuable water
The city has worked for a decade to create a modern, clean wastewater system to control Wimberley's own destiny, to clean up heavily polluted Cypress Creek and to produce Type 1 (safe for human contact) effluent that is vital to maintain and expand the beauty of Blue Hole Regional Park, which is one of the major attractions to our town, as well as a great place for our own families.
In response to concerns from some residents that the city's planned wastewater plant could create pollution, Wimberley City Councils -- including this current council -- have added protection after protection. The city recently added a 500,000 gallon storage tank to the plant. In cases where days of flood rains could prevent the Type 1 cleaned water from being used on Blue Hole fields, many days of water can be stored.
Last month the official Water Balance Study affirmed that the park land in Blue Hole can absorb more than all the production of the water plant. In effect, the plant is virtually a no-discharge plant. If it ever does have to discharge due to flooding, (1) the water coming out would be far cleaner than the flood waters it would go into, and (2) the already cleaned water would be so greatly diluted by the flooding it would be rendered even more harmless. Plus (3) the City has realized that the cleaned wastewater has its own value (See Fact Sheet below), and in the case it ever appears likely to need discharge, it can be hauled away to a private facility. In fact, when asked directly by the city's recent ad hoc wastewater committee, in a public meeting, Aqua Texas President Laughman said Aqua Texas would take it. City Council will also be able to vote Thursday to accept that offer! (Agenda Item 5A)
What can you do?
Contact your Council members. Some council members have declared they will never go with Aqua Texas. Others -- while voicing concerns about Aqua Texas -- have not publicly committed. Go to The City of Wimberley website for Council member email addresses. City Council's five members have been getting an earful from special interests that want them to hand control over to Aqua Texas. They will appreciate hearing from their constituents who care about Wimberley, not for profit but because it is home.
Let them know you want Wimberley to say YES to this long-sought $1 million grant.
Let them know you are against handing our town's ability to control its sewer management and pricing -- along with future development -- over to Aqua Texas.
Attend the meeting at City Hall, 211 Stillwater (south of the RR 12 Bridge), 6 p.m. Thursday.
CARD is asking all City Council members to vote YES unanimously to accept the million dollar EDA grant. Keep Wimberley our Wimberley. Now and in the future.
- CARD Steering Committee
Wimberley Sewer System - THE FACTS
- The Texas Water Development Board has approved a $5.5 million very low-interest loan for construction of the sewer system - pipes and plant, but only if the city keeps the CCN.
- The city has been approved for a $1 million grant from the Economic Development Administration to reduce the city's construction cost, but only if it is a Wimberley-run system.
- The city has already completed the engineering plans for the system using a $650,000 loan.
- The plan as designed will provide high quality treated water (Type 1) to irrigate the play fields at the Blue Hole Regional Park, eliminating the need to pump precious groundwater.
- The cost of the project will be borne largely (70%) by the customers of the system who will benefit from the low-interest, long-term loan.
- Under the city's plan all costs to hook directly to individual business and residential sewers and to decommission the failing septic systems are included in the funding. Not so with Aqua Texas.
- The city would allow an eight year payout of hookup costs for individual customers.
City Council has been waiting to hear the Aqua Texas proposal before it proceeds.
- Under a deal with Aqua Texas the city would lose its very low-interest loan, its $1 million EDA grant, and its construction permit, creating a significant cost increase to customers in the service area.
- It would likely also lose the $243,000 "loan forgiveness" (money we do not have to re-pay) in the project's financial assistance from the Texas Water Development Board.
- Aqua Texas has proposed acquiring the Wimberley/GBRA Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN) which gives the city the right to serve the downtown area. This CCN is very valuable and has a high market value that should be evaluated by qualified appraisals. The transfer of a CCN would require TCEQ approval and lengthy hearings.
- Aqua Texas is owned by $6.1 billion Aqua America which says part of its business plan is acquisition of small water/sewer operations, then raising rates to maximize profits.
- If Wimberley contracts with Aqua Texas, it will lose its ability to manage rates since those rates are approved by either the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) or the Texas Public Utility Commission. A rate appeal case could cost the city $200,000 or more, since experts and lawyers must be hired. Aqua Texas would have control.
- It is unlikely that Aqua Texas would allow users any long term payout of connection costs (unlike the city plan), making the burden high for downtown as well as future users elsewhere.
- Some have suggested that the sewer system could grow "organically" with Aqua Texas - meaning hookups could be made when desired. This is impractical since 70% of the cost of the system is in the initial piping. To allow connections when desired would place an extreme burden on initial customers. Without area-wide connections, the septic pollution would continue.
- Under an arrangement with Aqua Texas, the city would lose access to the high quality Type 1 water that will be a product of the city's plant. The Aqua Texas plant produces Type 2 effluent that is not suitable for human contact and cannot be used for application to play fields and landscaping at Blue Hole or elsewhere.
The current City of Wimberley plan is funded, "shovel ready" for construction, and economical for its customers. An arrangement with Aqua Texas would lead to significant delays and would result in much higher cost for Wimberley's central area customers.