A judge ordered the city of Palmview to stop construction on a controversial sewer project Tuesday, concerned the city deliberately bypassed the Agua Special Utility District — and showed flagrant disregard for the law.
With funding from the Texas Water Development Board, the utility district hired contractors to install a sewer system in Palmview.
The city, though, wanted chain restaurants and national retailers to build new locations on Expressway 83 between La Homa Road and Breyfogle Road. Concerned the developers wouldn’t wait for the utility district, Palmview decided to spend $580,000 on a separate sewer system and started construction in January.
When the utility district complained, Palmview filed a lawsuit. The utility district filed a counterclaim, asking the court to stop construction.
Attorneys argued the case Tuesday morning before state District Judge Letty Lopez.
After hearing the facts, Lopez lambasted Palmview City Attorney Gus Acevedo, finding that any further construction would cause the utility district irreparable harm.
“You know what the irreparable harm is? If you don’t follow the law, there’s lawlessness,” Lopez said. “That’s the irreparable harm. That cities can then do whatever they want: And not follow procedures. Not follow laws.”
Lopez ordered Palmview to halt construction until the lawsuit is resolved, putting the project on hold for months.
The contractor will charge $12,000 resume construction, Acevedo said, adding that the delays may cost Palmview additional money.
McAllen-based LeFevre Engineering and Management Consulting, which Palmview hired to handle the sewer project, didn’t submit an application to provide sewer service within the utility district, Acevedo said. Palmview later submitted an incomplete application, which the utility district rejected.
“That’s why the court felt we were acting lawlessly,” Acevedo said. “Because we didn’t submit the application prior to construction.”
The dispute between the utility district and Palmview presented a problem for LeFevre Engineering.
The company effectively managed the utility district from September to December 2017.
Company President Richard LeFevre took the interim general manager position and hired Emigdio “Milo” Salinas, the vice president of LeFevre Engineering, as assistant general manager, according to records obtained under the Texas Public Information Act.
LeFevre Engineering simultaneously worked for Palmview, which hired the company to handle the sewer project on Expressway 83.
Why LeFevre Engineering apparently didn’t submit the application before construction started remains unclear.
Neither LeFevre nor Salinas could be reached for comment after the hearing.
The hearing went badly for Palmview from the start.
“I think a fit analogy here, your honor, is if we say ‘You know what, we want to put a street in the city of Palmview. And we’re just going to go build it,’” said attorney David G. Oliveira of McAllen-based law firm Roerig, Oliveira and Fisher, which represents the utility district. “And when it’s done, we’ll say ‘Hey, here’s the street. If you don’t want it, do whatever you want with it.’”
Palmview broke the law by building a sewer system without applying for a permit, Oliveira said. Allowing any city or developer to build a sewer system within the utility district — and expecting the utility district to accept responsibility for the infrastructure — would set a troubling precedent.
Acevedo attempted to argue the utility district wouldn’t suffer any harm because Palmview would cover every conceivable cost.
The city would build the sewer system and, if necessary, dismantle everything at taxpayer expense, Acevedo said, adding that the utility district wouldn’t pay a penny.
Acevedo submitted a last-minute brief with supporting arguments, but Lopez took just a few minutes to conclude the brief didn’t hold water.
“You don’t have any law on your side,” Lopez said. “I’m ready. I don’t need your arguments.”