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No utility lines under Medina River yet

By Judith Pannebaker

A controversial Bandera City Council decision to supply municipal water and sewer utility services to a proposed health care facility to be constructed at the intersection of Highway 173 South and FM 1077 may have hit a snag.

While giving an update at the Oct. 18 city council meeting, Bandera City Administrator Gene Forester indicated Smithers Merchant Builders, LP, developers of Bandera Skilled Nursing Center, might request an extension from the Texas Department of Transportation for installation of sewer and water utility lines under the Medina River. As part of the development agreement with the city, the developer would fund installation of the utility lines and the city would furnish the facility with utilities. When the property is eventually annexed by the city, the utility lines would be brought into the city’s utility system.

During an meeting last summer, Public Works Director Mike Cardenas spoke in favor of extending municipal services. If utilities were not extended, once the nursing home property was annexed, the city would have to pay a “considerable cost” to loop the facility’s private utilities into the city system, he indicated.

Additionally, by refusing to extend the utility lines, the city would lose approximately $40,000 per year in revenue from developers, Foerster said.

However, under the developer’s original TxDOT permit, work on the project was to have been initiated by Nov. 10, which appears unlikely.

During an October city council meeting, it was indicated problems may have arisen with construction of a sewage lift station.

A lift station pumps sewage or wastewater uphill from a low-lying facility to a collection system of pipes. A lift station is frequently used to control the sewage treatment across several areas, pumping effluent to a collection area and ensuring waste from lower elevation areas is processed. The nursing center and possibly a physician’s office were to be the initial commercial customers in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ). However, during discussions of the utility lines extension, it was speculated that increased development across the river would follow.

During a September city council meeting, Councilman John Hegemier told council he had heard Smithers Merchant Builders had found installation of utility mains under the river “too expensive” a proposition. Hegemier suggested the developer might drill a well instead - a contention put forth earlier by Mayor Denise Griffin.

In July presentation, James Beach, senior manager with LBG-Guyton presented an overview of the consulting group’s extensive study of the Trinity Aquifer, commissioned by the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District. When the meeting adjourned, Griffin remarked she was surprised Beach hadn’t revealed his group had been contacted by personnel with Smithers Merchant Builders to discuss the feasibility of drilling a commercial well on the property, as opposed to paying for installation of utility lines.

In a later interview, Beach confirmed LBG-Guyton had been informally contacted about doing a study regarding the possibility of drilling a commercial well on the property; however, he said, nothing had been confirmed at this point.

“Before the city council meeting, the developers had asked us to pursue a contract with an option to drill a well,” Beach said, adding, “Although nothing has been finalized, the option can be taken up at any time.”

He added he hadn’t discussed the possibility of a well being drilled on the Smithers Merchant Builders, LP property because that hadn’t been the focus of his presentation before council.
The city council meeting to which Beach referred was held in July. At that time, the extension of utilities into the city’s ETJ was finally approved by a 3-2 decision. Hegemier and Councilman Horst Pallaske voted against the extension. The motion to extend the utility services into ETJ had been defeated twice prior to being approved last summer.