This article originally appeared in the Friday Oct. 25, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
The city of Palmview invited a handful of residents to City Hall last week to address widespread frustration over the sewer project, which left Palmview with miles of unpaved streets.
Residents, infuriated by endless delays and streets that require an off-road vehicle to navigate, didn’t hold back.
Construction on the Palmview sewer project started in March 2017.
The Agua Special Utility District hired two contractors, Edinburg-based OG Construction and Mercedes-based L&G Construction, to install the sewer system.
L&G Construction started work in March 2017, according to documents released by the utility district. OG Construction started work in September 2017.
They each had 330 days to complete the project. More than two years later, neither L&G Construction nor OG Construction is finished.
“Unfortunately, when we started the project we thought that the plans — the plans were stamped by the engineer and they were stamped October before we bid the project. Later on in the project, once we started it, we come to find out that the plans are actually over 12 years old,” said Omar Garcia, the owner of OG Construction. “And that even the soil report that we were provided was not a recent soil report. So we encountered some things along the way that have brought on different circumstances that we could never have imagined were going to happen.”
Workers had problems with groundwater, which delayed construction, and other obstacles that apparently weren’t present when the plans were completed.
OG Construction also had problems with the utility district.
“We are bonded. We are insured. We provide warranties. We do work all over the county. We’ve been doing this for years and years and years,” Omar Garcia said. “We have never had the situation we have with Agua.”
The city of Palmview attempted to address concerns about unpaved streets by striking a deal with the utility district.
Under the contract, workers originally planned to close streets, install sewer pipes and repave the part of the street they destroyed. Palmview agreed to repave the whole street after the contractor finished work.
The arrangement, which the city hoped would reduce delays and leave residents with better streets, backfired spectacularly.
Residents demanded to know when the city, which didn’t control how fast the contractors worked, would fix the streets.
To answer that question, the City Council arranged a small, informal meeting on Oct. 18.
City Councilman Joel Garcia, City Councilwoman Linda Sarabia, City Councilman Javier Ramirez, City Manager Michael Leo and City Attorney Eric Flores attended the meeting. They invited utility board Director Roger Hernandez of La Joya, who represents rural Hidalgo County residents, and Omar Garcia, the owner of OG Construction, who arrived with his attorney, Jonathan L. Almanza.
Omar Garcia said before Palmview could pave the streets, the utility district needed to accept the work and provide OG Construction with a certificate of substantial completion.
“I’ve been trying to speed along the process and say: ‘Ok. Give me a specific certificate for this street, this street, this street,’” Omar Garcia said. “And I’ve been asking for them for a year. And I’ve gotten nothing.”
Before he requests a certificate of substantial completion, the work is tested by an engineer, Omar Garcia said. After the test is completed, OG Construction, the engineer and the utility district are supposed to conduct a final walk-through together.
At that point, the utility district either accepts the work or provides OG Construction with a written list of problems that must be fixed.
“We have certificates from the engineer where it’s been tested and it’s been approved. And they’re dated and they’re signed by the engineer, but they have not moved on that next step, which is certificate,” Omar Garcia said. “And the problem is that they keep saying: ‘Well, we’re going to give you one certificate, we’re not going to give you certificates for every road.’ And I said: ‘That doesn’t make any sense, you’ve got 30 miles of sewer line that we have to go and walk.’”
Members of the City Council appeared stunned.
“Have they given you a reason why they haven’t—” said City Councilman Joel Garcia.
“No,” Omar Garcia said. “And not even a written answer.”
City Councilman Javier Ramirez suggested OG Construction demand a written answer.
“If you can get me one, that would be fantastic,” Omar Garcia said.
The explanation from OG Construction, however, didn’t appear to appease residents.
Ruben Solis of Taco Express said the answer is too little, too late.
“It’s affecting my business. And I feel like you guys didn’t notify us of the project. It just started all of the sudden. I lost a bunch of tenants. My business is down at least 50% or more,” Solis said. “And we’re seriously thinking about selling and just relocating to Edinburg, McAllen or somewhere else. Because it’s gotten that bad. You’re talking about a business with 20-plus years here in Palmview.”
Residents who attended the meeting criticized the utility district because Hernandez could only stay for about 40 minutes and General Manager Jose E. “Eddie” Saenz didn’t attend.
In a written statement, the utility district said Palmview didn’t tell Saenz about the meeting until about an hour before it started.
“The Contract between Agua SUD and OG does not contain language allowing OG to get substantial completion of parts of the Project. There is only one substantial completion and that is when all of OG’s work is complete and all deficiencies have been corrected,” according to a statement released by attorney Frank Garza, who represents the utility district. “Only then is the Project substantially complete and only then does Agua and its Engineer have to perform a walk-through with OG to generate a punch list required for Final Completion.”
The utility district also disputed how OG Construction characterized the progress of the sewer project.
“OG’s work on the Project is not substantially complete. There are portions of the sewer project that have yet to be installed or completed,” according to the statement. “There are also noted defects in OG’s work. OG has previously committed to correcting those defects, but comments from OG’s owner recently indicated that OG has backed off that promise and now refuses to complete the corrective work.”
The contract doesn’t allow for sewer lines to be accepted on a street-by-street basis, according to the statement.
“AGUA cannot order paving of the streets until OG has completed all required work. Part of that Work is an inspection of the line to verify it has been constructed properly. OG appear to be attempting to use public pressure to force Agua into forgiving OG of its final obligations relating to inspection and correction of deficiencies,” according to the statement. “Agua cannot succumb to that pressure because the last thing Agua wants is to take possession of a street, have the City pave it, and then be forced to have OG come in later, tear up the pavement, and correct defective work.”