City wastewater capacity being stretched

In News by Reporter News

According to the developers of the Lakeland community in Manvel, city officials have known since last August that wastewater capacity to service Section 3 and beyond of the development would be insufficient to meet the additional homes that would be constructed. Several discussions among council in recent months have brought to light that not only is the capacity for the Lakeland community strained, but capacity to accommodate potential new development is compromised as well. The recent completion of the long needed water and sewer line to service SH 6 to SH 288 was tempered by the realization that even if a large commercial/retail tenant was ready to establish a presence in the city it would be unable to do so due to the insufficient capacity the city can currently provide. In February council was presented with four options to meet the immediate need for Lakeland and future needs for other potential customers. No action was taken by council due primarily to the aversion to assuming debt that would necessarily result in a tax increase to Manvel taxpayers. Council has no enthusiasm for such an action.

The matter as it concerns Lakeland has been a point of contention and came to a head at a recent city council meeting. Cervelle Homes is the sole builder in Lakeland and according to its president and owner, Jeff Payson, the city has shut down his business. He says he has no product to sell and no lots to start after June. He says it is due to the city’s failure to honor their agreement in not following through on the provision of wastewater capacity for a new section of homes. Payson says negotiations with the city have been on-going since August 2014 and that it was known by all that insufficient capacity would force construction to cease. MUD 61, which services Lakeland, is prepared to build a dedicated plant with a 250,000 gallon capacity at the site of the city’s current facility off Corporate Drive. It would meet its immediate needs, provide additional capacity to the city, and would require no investment from the city.

It will take a year or more to complete the project and Payson says he needs a commitment from the city to make available on a temporary basis 122 connections. Once the new treatment facility is on-line the 122 connections will revert back to the city for use at its discretion. The city, however, will commit to just 48 connections based on original estimates on the time required for construction. Mayor Martin explained that the city would be open to possibly granting additional connections as the need arises up to the time the new plant is on line. Payson considers that a tenuous commitment for a builder requiring greater assurance in planning a program. Payson takes particular exception that the current capacity available in the plant is “way more than we need even before we add to it.” The city will not make those connections available as they are committed to another development which Payson characterizes as “hypothetical” and will not be required in the time period he is requesting the temporary capacity. Payson hinted at legal action against the city saying “real damages are mounting up every day.”

The developer of Lakeland, Dan Rucker, characterized as “odd” that city staff seems to capriciously set aside certain rules that in the end result in compromising the city’s own interests in satisfying their infrastructure requirements. Mayor Martin says the city is trying desperately to work with the developer but Rucker sees those efforts falling woefully short, gravely expressing his sentiment: “In thirty years of doing this I have never run up against something that was supposed to be so easy to do that has been compounded and made so complicated to take over a year to drag through this process.”

As is expected in such matters things are not necessarily so definitive and two sides to the issue emerge upon investigation. City Manager Kyle Jung explained the Development Agreement, beginning with Section 3, grants the MUD authority to construct its own plant if the city did not have adequate capacity. But another requirement in the Developer Agreement mandates the construction of a road to access the plant, which Rucker is not at all keen to construct and characterizes as a “road to nowhere.” Because the five acres required for the facility would have to be subdivided from a larger 20-acre plot, it falls under the city’s subdivision ordinance, thereby requiring the extension of public infrastructure, which includes roads, into the subdivided land.

Regarding the connections already committed to another development, Jung concedes that the need for those connections is not looming in the near future but explained that while the risk is minimal the city cannot afford the potential legal ramifications of a new plant not being completed in Lakeland if and when the new development would make a call on its committed connections. “We are cognizant of the fact that it is a small risk, but how would you go and unplug a house’s sewer connection? You’ve already issued a Certificate of Occupancy saying they have capacity and then you are going to make it conditional that in the event we need it we are going to cut off your sewer,” is how he explained the indefensible possibility.

Jung said the city engineer re-worked the number of connections available based on historic usage and industry norms so that a satisfactory offer can be prepared and submitted to Lakeland for consideration. “I assume they will all be happy with this if we can get to putting all of Section 3 temporarily into the plant,” he posited. The attorney for MUD 61 is reworking the agreement and Jung expects council to be able to vote on it at the council meeting scheduled for Monday, May 11.

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