City wastewater plant nears completion, costs increase again



As the new Liberty Hill wastewater plant expansion nears completion and will soon be ready to come online, new questions are being raised about which equipment supplier the City will go with for the first plant already in operation.

The Council on Monday approved change order eight on the current wastewater plant expansion project, adding $70,641 to the project, in what it hopes is the final addition before the plant is operational this month.

The order brings the new contract price to $12.37 million, nearly $3 million above the original $9.68 million contract for the project.

A large portion of the added cost came when former Mayor Rick Hall made the decision in April – supported unanimously by the Council – to switch the equipment used in the new plant from Microdyn to Suez, citing dissatisfaction with the Microdyn equipment.

At that time, Hall indicated the City would go with Suez for the new plant, and eventually switch the first membrane bioreactor (MBR) plant, opened in mid-2018, to Suez as well, but that decision is back on the table today.

In addition to the change order for the new plant, the Council approved the purchase of two sets of new membranes from Microdyn for the first plant.

City Administrator Lacie Hale acknowledged that there was a plan under the previous administration to convert the first plant to Suez, but staff was in the process of studying that option before moving forward.

“That was the plan of the prior administration, but we’re still trying to figure out which way to go because we just spent half a million dollars on membranes for our current plant,” Hale said. “In the next few weeks I hope to set up a meeting with our engineer team and our operators to talk about our overall master plan for our wastewater treatment plant to see what’s more cost-effective for the City in the long run.”

The ultimate decision will come down to the cost for a change over versus weighing the potential issues of having two different suppliers and equipment for the two MBR plants.

“It’s really a difference of if we retrofit it to Suez it is a million (of dollars), but now we have options where it could be a couple hundred thousand and maybe more cost effective for the City,” Hale said. “We’re open to more options and to seeing if both types of plants will work on our site. I’ve already started those discussions with our team.”

The funds approved this week will come out of monies received from the City of Georgetown following a wastewater rate audit. The funds totaled $849,300.

The City remains under threat of a federal lawsuit under the Clean Water Act, after it was notified in September 2020 of the intent to file suit.

If filed, the suit would be brought in federal court by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), representing resident Stephanie Morris who owns property along the South San Gabriel River downstream from the wastewater plant.

The suit has not been filed to date as the City and attorneys from TRLA negotiate.

The primary issue cited in the potential suit is regular algae blooms that choke the South San Gabriel downstream from the plant, but do not typically appear upstream, leading residents to argue that the plant’s effluent is causing the algae.

The City has argued in the past that the effluent is not causing the algae – often pointing to development runoff or lawn chemicals making their way into the river as the culprit. The City has also stood behind its stance that it is operating according to its permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The Council voted Monday to allow its attorney in the matter to negotiate services for a biological study of the river in an amount not to exceed $10,000.

New City Attorney
City Attorney Tad Cleaves informed the City Feb. 26 that he was resigning after accepting a position with the Texas Municipal League (TML) Legal Department.

Cleaves joined the City in March of last year after the Council dissolved its professional services agreement with the Bojorquez Law Firm where he was formerly employed.

The Council will meet March 4 to consider the recruitment process and hiring of a new city attorney.