The Palmview City Council wants to know why the Agua Special Utility District sewer project went bad.
Construction started in March 2017. More than five years later, the $42 million project still isn’t finished — and the City Council is frustrated.
During a meeting on Tuesday, the City Council authorized City Manager Michael Leo and City Attorney Eric Flores to find out what happened.
“I think that, ideally, we want to hold the responsible parties accountable,” Leo said.
As part of the process, Palmview may ask engineers and independent experts to conduct a third-party review of the project. The City Council met with Oscar Saenz, a principal at Nashville-based engineering firm Smith Seckman Reid, in executive session.
“We want this project complete,” Eric Flores said. “They have consulted their experts, and now it’s in our interest to also have our experts.”
It’s uncharted water for Palmview.
Agua SUD — not the city of Palmview — provides water and sewer service within city limits.
The Texas Water Development Board provided Agua SUD with about $42 million in grants and loans to build the sewer system. Agua SUD also received about $6.2 million from the North American Development Bank to cover the cost of sewer connections.
Work on the sewer system began in March 2017, when Mercedes-based L&G Construction broke ground. Edinburg-based OG Construction followed that September.
Both L&G and OG had problems with groundwater throughout the project and fell behind schedule. Agua SUD also had problems with S&B Infrastructure of Houston, which provided construction management and inspection services for the project.
S&B sued Agua SUD in September 2020, claiming the utility district owed the company $744,000. Agua SUD denied the allegations and filed a counterclaim last month.
“The lack of proper construction management and inspection by S&B caused a major delay in the eventual completion and acceptance of the new collection system along with postponing the public’s use of the new sanitary sewer system,” according to the counterclaim.
With the lawsuit against S&B pending, Agua SUD may be hesitant to cooperate with a third-party review of the project.
Attorney Jeffrey S. Chapman of Austin, who represents Agua SUD, said Palmview hadn’t informed him about the review.
“This is the first I’m hearing about that,” Chapman said, adding that he couldn’t comment on the city’s plans.
Even if Palmview determined why the project went bad, though, it’s not clear what the City Council could do about it.
“I think that’s the golden question. And — as to ‘What are the options?’ — we’re hoping to get those from the experts,” Eric Flores said. “And then, again, in the interest of working together with Agua SUD, we hope that they will work alongside us to get that project complete.”
Members of the City Council just want answers. They’re bombarded with calls from residents upset about the construction and damage to city streets.
“They’re frustrated,” said City Councilman Joel Garcia. “And I am too.”
City Councilwoman Alexandra Flores said the review may also clear up confusion about responsibility for the sewer project.
“I know the impression is that the city of Palmview is at fault. They blame the city for the condition that it’s in,” Alexandra Flores said. “There’s a lot of misconceptions on that part, and I think we can do a better job of communicating where our responsibilities lie.”