|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
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Goodrich council digs into TCEQ violations
BY BRIAN BESCH
The City of Goodrich met Thursday to discuss how to proceed after its application for a supplemental environmental project (SEP) was rejected. The $16,250 fine handed down in June from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for violations occurring January through March is for contamination issues in city wastewater ponds. The ponds have been found to contain Escherichia coli (E. coli) and have biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) issues. SEP's are an environmentally beneficial project, which violators voluntarily agree to perform as part of a settlement of an enforcement action. If accepted, the monetary penalty that is now applied as a result of the violation could have been reduced or forgiven entirely. KSA Project Manager and City Engineer Jimmy Thompson said KSA tried to take precautionary measures in July 2011. The company sent a letter to the city to take action before the problem grew. Grants to correct the problem in 2011 were filed late and resulted in difficulty receiving further government assistance. TCEQ requires the fine to be paid within the next three years and is interest free. However, council followed Councilwoman Nita Gokey's motion, voting unanimously to pay the fine in one installment after Goodrich Mayor Jeremy Harper recommended a payment plan. The decision to pay the fine immediately could be one that impairs the city's ability to take on future costs, such as the wastewater pond's needed chlorine contact system, aerators and the possibility of additional fines. Fines are still possible for failed tests in April, May and June. "In 2009, when the city was facing TCEQ fines, we made a settlement for $11,900," Harper said. "The city paid it out in monthly installments. If the city paid that out in monthly installments on an interest free payment plan, why would we not be paying this out on an interest free plan for $16,250? I don't understand the reasoning behind that. We could possibly have three more months of fines coming up. Now, we may also have to pay the future fines on top of spending money to improve our plant to get in compliance. Why would we spread our budget so thin when we could have paid it out in monthly payments with no interest? They did it in 2009 with a lot less money." Thompson said new chlorine contact chamber systems can arrive with a bill of as much as $250,000, yet the city can utilize components already in place for a range of $40,000-$50,000. Plans and specifications will have to be submitted for approval to TCEQ. The deadline to pay or begin payments of fines is Aug. 19. Thompson said this is the first denial he has seen. "That is our first one," he said. "In their (TCEQ) preliminary review, they come up with a rating system based on the cost of the fine, based on the city's budget and the financials that are in the general fund. They denied it based on the preliminary financial rating. Once this Aug. 19 deadline is reached, then we have 90 days to get the (wastewater) plant back in compliance. Unfortunately, we were denied in trying to convince TCEQ that the money that would be paid to them as a fine would be used to help fix the problem. Harper said City Secretary Shirley Murphy told him she deliberately kept information about the denial from him, something he felt was costly in giving the city an opportunity to plead its case with TCEQ. Harper learned of the fines on Aug. 6. Both Councilwoman Susan Ryman and Murphy were contacted via email on July 25 about the denial, though Murphy and Harper were listed as contacts in KSA's contract with Goodrich. "Jimmy (Thompson) said no city gets fined from having too much money in a general fund, we just didn't have any representation calling them," Harper said. "That is what I have an issue with. The people elected me to represent them. There has got to be some representation and no one called TCEQ. I didn't call because I was not notified." Council also made a decision for the Goodrich Volunteer Fire Department, removing a section of fencing and the installation of a culvert to gain quicker access to the street in emergencies. Gokey, who is on the Goodrich Volunteer Fire Department Board of Directors, moved for the city to pay the entire bill, which will not exceed $1,000. A unanimous decision was reached that limits open forum discussions to one city business item for a length of three minutes. All future agenda items will be submitted by a council member or the mayor and pertain to city business only. Also approved was the hiring of Davis Heinemann and Company, a Certified Public Accountant firm from Huntsville for the 2012-2013 audit in the amount of $4,200.