Agua SUD hires Austin-based attorney as ‘special counsel’ for Palmview sewer project

Frustrated with the Palmview sewer project, which is more than a year behind schedule, the Agua Special Utility District on Monday hired an Austin-based law firm that specializes in construction litigation.

The utility board voted to employ The Chapman Firm of Austin as special counsel for the Palmview sewer project.

AguaSUDLogoAsked why the utility district hired The Chapman Firm, attorney Frank Garza, who represents the board, said he couldn’t comment.

“I can’t discuss it because of legal issues,” Garza said.
Attorney Jeffrey S. Chapman, who heads the firm, specializes in construction law.

Chapman represented the city of Weslaco in a lawsuit against engineer Rolando Briones and his eponymous company, Briones Consulting and Engineering, which designed the Weslaco water treatment plant.

Weslaco accused Briones of negligence and fraud. He settled the lawsuit for $1.3 million but denied any wrongdoing.

It’s unclear whether the utility district plans to file a lawsuit against the contractors or simply needs an attorney who specializes in construction law to handle thorny, last-minute negotiations over damages.

Construction on the $42.2 million Palmview sewer project started in March 2017.

The utility district hired Mercedes-based L&G Construction and Edinburg-based OG Construction to install pipes, manholes and other sewer infrastructure throughout Palmview.

Mercedes-based Jimmy Closner & Sons Construction won the contract to build lift stations, which move sewage through the system. The utility district hired a fourth company, Mission-based Mor-Wil, to build the main lift station and force main, which will send the sewage from Palmview to Mission for treatment.

Delays plagued the project.

L&G Construction started work in March 2017, according to documents prepared by S&B Infrastructure, which the utility district hired to supervise the project. The contract required L&G Construction to complete the work by February 2018.

More than a year later, L&G Construction isn’t finished.
OG Construction started work in September 2017, according to documents prepared by S&B Infrastructure. The contract required OG Construction to complete the project by August 2018.

More than a year later, OG Construction isn’t finished either.

Groundwater caused major problems for the contractors.

Old engineering plans also caused headaches. And the utility district feuded with OG Construction from the beginning.

OG Construction submitted the low bid for Phase 2 of the project, but the utility board wanted to award the contract to Saenz Brothers Construction.

Attorneys for the utility district argued OG Construction wasn’t qualified to handle the project. The utility board wanted to award the contract to Saenz Brothers, but the Texas Water Development Board, which funded the Palmview sewer project, directed the utility district to accept the lowest bid.

Members of the utility board frequently criticized OG Construction during meetings. In July, board President Lloyd Loya summarized his feelings about the situation by quoting the Randy Travis song “I Told You So.”

Omar Garcia, the president of OG Construction, attended the utility board meeting Monday but declined to comment. Loya referred a request for comment to Garza, the board’s attorney.

The back-and-forth between the utility district and contractors left Palmview residents with unpaved streets, seemingly endless construction and clouds of dust.

Mayor Rick Villarreal, who frequently fields complaints about the project, addressed the situation on Saturday, when he led the City Council in prayer.

“Help these streets to get paved, dear lord, in your name. Faster than fast, dear lord, heavenly father,” Villarreal said Saturday afternoon, when he presided over a City Council meeting. “You say where two or more are gathered, there you shall be, and we firmly believe that dear lord. Nobody is perfect. And neither are the contractors that are working on this project, dear lord.

We don’t put blame on the city. We don’t put blame on the Agua SUD. Just make sure that this project is done for the betterment of Agua SUD and of the city, dear lord, heavenly father.”

This article originally appeared in the Friday Sept. 20, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

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