Water officials in San Leon say it’s inevitable that the people they serve are going to start paying more money in the near future.
The unincorporated community needs an expanded wastewater plant to handle the needs of the growing population.
The existing plant already is over capacity and, were it not for a reprieve from state regulatory officials, would be facing thousands of dollars of fines each time a heavy rain backs up the wastewater system, district managers said.
“What we’ve seen is that our collection system and infrastructure has deteriorated over time,” said Andrew Miller, the district manager of the San Leon Municipal Utility District.
Next week, people who live in the San Leon Municipal Utility District’s boundaries will begin to vote on a $39 million bond, which the district said would pay for projects over the next 15 years.
The money will be divided between 10 different projects, the largest of which is a $16.6 million expansion of the wastewater plant, which will make it capable of handling 1.9 million gallons of wastewater a day.
The expansion would more than double the capacity of the existing plant, which was completed in 1977.
The utility district serves about 2,800 homes and businesses in a 5-square-mile area, Miller said.
The age of the plant has started to show, district officials said. Some of the pipes that carry waste to the plant have deteriorated and allow ground water to flow to the plant.
Too much flow in can result in backups and cause the plant to treat water that doesn’t need to be treated. It can also result in fines from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Miller said. The commission is aware of the limitations of the plant and has agreed not to fine the district, as long as it comes up with a fix, Miller said.
“They’re aware of the situation,” Miller said. “They know that we’ve been putting money into our infrastructure systems and so they haven’t been fining us yet.”
There’s also simply a capacity issue caused by more people moving to the area, officials said. Because of capacity issues at the plant, district officials have imposed a moratorium on issuing permits to new commercial businesses, they said.
If the bond passes, residents’ taxes would increase to 63 cents per $100 of valuation from 45 cents per $100 of valuation.
If the bond doesn’t pass, the district would likely increase its water and sewer rates to pay for the expansion, he said. Rates might need to be tripled to pay for the project that way, officials said.
Part of the reason San Leon residents are facing a big price tag now is because of choices made in the past, officials said. For instance, the concrete-plastic pipes that were originally used and have now broken are inferior to PVC pipes that could have been used in their place, officials said.
But some of the costs also just come with age.
“Everything comes with a useful lifespan, eventually it reaches its end,” Miller said. “At the time, they looked at the resources they had and did the best they could. You just have to roll with that and that’s part of what goes into maintaining infrastructure.”
The district has held one public meeting about the bond election already and plans to hold another at the San Leon Fire Department on April 22.
The result of the bond likely will be decided by a few hundred voters. The last time San Leon had a bond election, about 700 people voted.
Early voting began on April 22. Election Day is May 4.