Attorneys finally sign-off on temporary injunction in Palmview sewer controversy

Two months after state District Judge Letty Lopez ordered the city of Palmview to stop construction on a controversial sewer project, attorneys finally submitted a draft of the temporary injunction on Monday.

The Agua Special Utility District started building a sewer system for Palmview during January 2017. The city, though, became concerned retailers and restaurants wouldn’t wait for the utility district to complete the long-delayed project — and started building a separate sewer system for businesses on the Expressway 83 frontage road.

City of Palmview LogoWhen the utility district complained, the city filed a lawsuit.

Lopez ordered the city to stop construction on May 22, lambasting Palmview for ignoring the law. Palmview stopped work on the sewer project, but City Attorney Gus Acevedo delayed signing the temporary injunction for two months.

“The City of Palmview plans to appeal any temporary injunction order entered,” Acevedo wrote to the utility district’s law firm on May 29, according to an email filed with the court. “Please feel free to file this piece of Agua SUD political propaganda masquerading as an ‘order.’”

Lopez scheduled a hearing for Tuesday, instructing Acevedo to sign-off on the temporary injunction or appear in court and explain why he wouldn’t approve the document.

Acevedo signed the temporary injunction hours before the hearing.

“We don’t have much say-so over the language. The judge said what she said,” Acevedo said. “And that’s what we’re going to challenge.”

The temporary injunction blocks Palmview from building any sewer infrastructure until the lawsuit is resolved.

Trial is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 6, but attorneys for both the city and the utility district anticipate delays.

The Palmview City Council hired Brownsville-based attorney Gilberto Hinojosa to handle a potential appeal, which would almost certainly delay the trial date.

Meanwhile, an administrative proceeding on the matter is pending before the Texas Public Utility Commission.

“That may be the better forum to make our case,” Acevedo said.

Attorneys for the utility district filed an application with the Public Utility Commission on June 29, requesting a cease-and-desist order against the city.

The utility district accused Palmview of building a sewer system without permission, a clear violation of the Texas Water Code.

“It’s similar to a municipality,” said attorney Frank Garza, who represents the utility board, illustrating the situation with an example: “If Mission decided ‘You know what, we’re going to provide sewer services to the citizens of McAllen and we’re going to provide water services to the citizens of McAllen.”

Allowing the city or any private developer to create a separate sewer system would reduce the number of utility district customers and ultimately increase rates for everyone else, Garza said. The Texas Water Development Board provided $42.2 million in grants and loans for the project.

“In essence, it would be taking away business or income that would be necessary to pay for the debt obligations,” Garza said.

The utility district plans to provide sewer service to businesses on the frontage road, according to the Public Utility Commission application. With construction in progress, exactly when they’ll receive service remains unclear.

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