This article originally appeared in the Friday Nov. 15, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
The city of Palmview started paving streets Monday — and members of the City Council didn’t waste any time jockeying for the credit.
Earthworks Enterprise, a contractor hired by the city, started paving La Homa Road and Farm-to-Market Road 495 on Monday. After repairing the main roads, Earthworks Enterprise will start paving eight other streets damaged by the Agua Special Utility District sewer project.
“That has been our plan since day one,” said City Councilman Joel Garcia, adding that problems between the utility district and contractors hired to build the sewer system shouldn’t stop Palmview from paving streets. “I don’t think they should hold the city hostage.”
After waiting for more than two years, the City Council had enough, Garcia said, adding that Palmview had prepared to unilaterally fix the streets.
“They were telling us when we could pave and when we couldn’t,” Garcia said. “Now we have to go forward.”
The utility district hired two contractors, Edinburg-based OG Construction and Mercedes-based L&G Construction, to build the sewer system. To install the sewer pipes, they dug up dozens of city streets.
Construction started in March 2017. Two years later, the sewer system isn’t finished and many streets remain unpaved.
The utility district fired OG Construction on Nov. 6, which may delay the project indefinitely.
After the utility district announced the decision, members of the utility board invited the Palmview City Council to lunch on Nov. 7.
City Councilman Anthony Uresti met with utility board President Lloyd Loya, utility board Director Adolfo Arriaga, utility General Manager J.E. “Eddie” Saenz and utility board attorney Frank Garza, who authorized Palmview to start paving streets.
“The streets are going to be paved,” Uresti said during an interview with the Progress Times. “Mr. Loya, Chief (Arriaga) and all the Agua SUD board members were very helpful throughout the whole process.”
The authorization to start paving streets, however, came with a catch.
If the utility district finds problems with work performed by OG Construction, the utility district may be forced to dig up the newly paved streets, fix the problems and pave the streets again.
Garcia, Palmview City Manager Michael Leo and City Councilwoman Linda Sarabia, who traveled to Bastrop for a conference last week, couldn’t attend the lunch meeting on Nov. 7.
“If we would have been here, we would have gone,” Garcia said during an interview with the Progress Times.
Garcia declined to comment on whether or not he believed the utility district acted in good faith by holding the lunch meeting when the city manager and city attorney couldn’t attend.
“I’m not going to answer that,” Garcia said during an interview with the Progress Times. “No comment on that one because that’s the same question that I have. So I can’t answer a question that I have. Was it in good faith? What do you think?”
When he returned from the conference on Nov. 8, Leo held a follow-up discussion with the utility district.
Leo said the utility district presented him with two options: Wait three or four months for another contractor to finish the project or start paving streets immediately.
“It’s quite likely that they’re going to have to go excavate, tear it up, finish what they started,” Leo said. “And then they would be responsible for paving it again. We would not.”
When the City Council met Monday afternoon, though, Garcia dismissed the Thursday and Friday meetings as inconsequential.
“I guess my point is that you can’t count any meetings on Thursday or Friday because they were not legit,” Garcia said. “They were not supposed to be — we did not have an attorney. So you cannot bring up that meeting. There was nothing done at those meetings. That’s what I’m saying.”
Garcia appeared concerned that Uresti, who is part of a different political faction in Palmview, would take credit for paving the streets.
Uresti didn’t respond. City Councilman J.L. Perez, who is aligned with Uresti, started talking at several points during the meeting, but Garcia interrupted him.
Garcia said the City Council, not the utility district, made the decision to start paving streets. Sarabia agreed.
“For the record, I would like to reiterate that this was something that the Council had already decided on, like you said, a few weeks ago, because we weren’t seeing any progress working with the different entities,” Sarabia said, adding that Leo and City Attorney Eric Flores deserved credit for their work on the project.
Sarabia said the city also asked state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa for help.
“It’s very important to clarify that,” Sarabia said. “Because we are a Council. Not one person does this alone.”