Mayor to TCEQ: Fine, we’ll pay it

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, February 9, 2013

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Chico Mayor J.D. Clark said Tuesday that the city will pay a $33,000 fine to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a self-reported violation at the city’s wastewater treatment plant last summer.

But he’s not happy about it.

The violation of TCEQ regulations stems from an incident during late spring. Clark said a repair needed to be made at the facility, and the water had to be drained. The only place to move it was a retaining pond.

“Our options were to drain the wastewater sludge into the retaining pond to fix the arm, or we don’t fix the arm and our sewer plant backs up. Obviously, the sewer plant backing up was not a viable option so we drained that into the retaining pond so we could repair the arm and get the wastewater treatment plant online,” Clark told the city council at Tuesday’s meeting.

The problem was, the TCEQ said the pond doesn’t have an engineer-certified liner, meaning the city violated TCEQ rules.

Clark said the city notified TCEQ of their action, and last fall the agency notified the city that it was being fined $33,000.

“I made the case of what a financial burden that is on us, and they like to tell us how wealthy Chico is,” Clark said. “I’m not sure we’re looking at the same numbers.”

Clark said he then offered to take the amount of the fine and spend it on an environmental project that would benefit the community, namely a project to protect and enhance the environment at the wastewater treatment plant.

The agency also rejected that idea.

The third option was to send TCEQ the fine money that would be applied to a supplemental environmental project that had been pre-approved by the agency.

Clark said he was met with the same answer.

“They said, ‘No, we want you to send us a check,'” he said.

“That really bothers me because they’ve opted several times now in this process of passing up something of environmental benefit to Texas in favor of financial benefit to TCEQ,” he said.

Still not wanting to send them a check for the full amount all at one time, Clark said he finally convinced TCEQ to allow the city to pay the fine out over a period of three years. The council approved making payments of $925 a month for that time period.

“Since I started doing this in 2009, I’ve had an opportunity to work a lot with TCEQ,” Clark said. “I worry a lot about water in Wise County. And I also worry a lot about common sense in Austin. This is a perfect example of that.”

In other business, the council held the second public hearing on annexing property into the city by petition of local landowners. The property, located on Business Texas 101 on the north side of town, is already partially in the city limits, and the property owner wants the whole property brought into the city. The council is expected to take action on the request at next month’s meeting.

Mike Neagle, who works as an investigator at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office and also works as senior officer for the city of Chico, reported on the vehicle pursuit and manhunt that resulted in a grass fire that destroyed Neagle’s patrol car last weekend. While the county owns the vehicle, the city paid for much of the equipment inside the vehicle such as a radar, stun gun and cameras. All were destroyed in the fire. Clark said the items were insured. Neagle was not injured.

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