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San Benito faces $113,600 fine over sewer discharge

September 22, 2018

SAN BENITO — The city is facing another state fine stemming from its sewer discharges.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality recently fined the city $113,600 resulting from sewer discharges containing unacceptable levels of pollutants.

In an unrelated case, the city faces a March 2023 deadline to comply with a 2012 TCEQ order to overhaul its sewer system or pay hefty fines.

In the latest case, in May a TCEQ investigator found the city’s sewer system had discharged unacceptable levels of E. coli and ammonia nitrogen.

According to a TCEQ document, the review found unacceptable levels of E. coli in May and August of 2017 and in March 2018.

Meanwhile, the document also states unacceptable levels of ammonia nitrogen were found from January to March 2018.

Earlier this week, city commissioners met in closed session with City Attorney Mark Sossi to discuss a “settlement” with TCEQ.

Commissioners took no action after Tuesday’s discussions.

Yesterday, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa stated the city is considering “options” to paying the fine.

“The city of San Benito has not made any payment regarding this matter,” De La Rosa stated. “The penalty amount is part of the settlement offer; however, the city has options to mitigate paying any or all of the penalty amount through an agreement with TCEQ; hence, the settlement discussions.”

Meanwhile, TCEQ has ordered the city to provide documentation specifying corrective measures it could undertake to comply with state water quality standards.

“The city of San Benito takes all environmental and compliance requirements seriously and will strive to identify deficiencies and take corrective measures as deemed appropriate,” city spokeswoman Martha McClain stated.

Sandy Van Cleave, manager of TCEQ’s enforcement division, has requested the city promptly address the matter to avoid litigation.

“We believe that handling this matter expeditiously could save the city of San Benito and the TCEQ a significant amount of time as well as the expense associated with litigation,” Van Cleave wrote in a July 26 letter to Mayor Ben Gomez.

TCEQ allows the city the right to an evidentiary hearing and appeal.

2009-2010 sewer spills

In an unrelated case, the city is responding to an order to upgrade its sewer system stemming from sewage discharges about nine years ago.

In October 2012, the city entered into an agreement with TCEQ to participate in its Sanitary Sewer Overflow Initiative program following a series of sewage spills near the Arroyo Colorado totaling 49,000 gallons from November 2009 to January 2010.

As part of the program, the agency agreed to waive severe fines and penalties if the city would upgrade its sewer system by March 2023.

For months, the city planned to upgrade six sewer lift stations at a cost of about $8 million to comply with the order.

Then in July, city commissioners voted down a proposal to borrow the money through the sale of certificates of obligation.

Now, Gomez and City Commissioner Rick Guerra are requesting state and federal representatives help them with grants to fund the upgrades, McClain has stated.

According to McClain, Gomez and Guerra have contacted the offices of representatives including state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville; U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville; and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com

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