Editor: Shannon Cottongame
February 22, 2023
The Whitney City Council met in a regular session Thursday, February 16, and approved a proposal for engineering and surveying services related to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Public Works Director Billy Pribble provided background information on the issues with the plant, which has had Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) compliance issues for years and has been under TCEQ enforcement since 2012. The issues stem from the total suspended solids in the water leaving the sewer plant being too high to meet required codes. The plant also has an issue with erosion that needs to be addressed.
Reviewing documents from before his time with the city, which began in September 2019, Pribble said that the city requested a 24-month extension on a TCEQ enforcement in 2016 and said that replacing the rock reed filters with a mechanical filtration system had been suggested at that time.
The resolution passed by the council last week runs down the timeline, stating that former City Administrator Chris Bentley did not provide a response to a letter the TCEQ sent to the city in November 2018, but he submitted a response in April 2019 laying out a schedule for replacing the sewer plant with a new activated sludge or extended aeration plant. Pribble said that the deadlines in that timeline were not met.
Over the years, the city has attempted some fixes, including treating the ponds for algae, using an engineered filtration system and contracting for electrofishing, but they were not successful. Pribble said that a chlorine contact chamber that went online for E. coli reduction in March 2021 was highly effective in that effort, and the installation of aerators did result in a reduction of algae and total suspended solids.
Pribble said that the plant has long been an issue and the city has allocated a lot of money and resources to it. Information presented at the meeting indicated that the style of the plant was outdated and not appropriate for the area even when it was installed in 1992.
Pribble pointed out that even if the issue with water quality was adequately addressed, the city would still have to address the erosion problem, which could cost more than upgrading to a new plant. He also provided examples of aggressive enforcement and fines that other municipalities have faced, saying that it is imperative that the city move forward to become TCEQ compliant.
Clark Associates submitted a proposal to perform engineering and surveying services, geotechnical services and project bidding for a new 400,000-gallon per day, above-ground wastewater treatment plant. The contract calls for the work to be performed at a cost not to exceed $131,700.
More details about the path forward will be discussed at future meetings, but early estimates indicated that a new plant could cost $1.6 or $1.7 million at today’s rates.
In other action, the council approved a proposal from ESESIS Environmental Partners to determine if there are any environmental concerns at the city annex on Colorado Street.
Library Director Denise Carter recently informed the council that the building had issues when the library vacated it to occupy its new building.
The company will conduct an asbestos survey and air sampling, mold assessment and site assessment at a total cost of $11,370.
The council also voted to establish a records management policy in compliance with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission standards. Mayor Jerry Barker presented photos showing the city’s records stored in storage units that are not in compliance with required standards.
The documents need to be inventoried, and it needs to be determined whether they are archival or permanent records and which ones can legally be destroyed. The city’s new administrative assistant who has experience in records management is spearheading the effort. The council also approved expenses not to exceed $10,000 to purchase boxes, shelving and to hire a records destruction company. A climate-controlled storage unit has also been rented to properly store the records.
The council also ordered a general election to be held jointly with Whitney Independent School District Saturday, May 6, for the purpose of electing a mayor and two city council members. Early voting will be conducted at the Whitney ISD Administration Building, located at 305 South San Jacinto Street, weekdays from April 24 through May 2, and election day voting will also be at the administration building.
After receiving proposals from two local banks, the council selected Citizens State Bank as the city’s bank depository. Mayor Barker thanked the bank for their service to the community and said that it offered the best proposal.
The council accepted 20-foot waterline utility easements from two property owners who plan to build homes on State Park Road in an area that is not in the city limits but is covered by the Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN), making them eligible to receive city water services.
In departmental reports, Mayor Barker read a proclamation declaring Saturday, March 11, as Whitney Area Museum Day. See accompanying proclamation on the back page of this edition.
Event Coordinator Pam Townley encouraged the public to attend the history tour at the museum Saturday, March 11, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to wear vintage costumes, the mayor will read the museum proclamation and Whitney native and poet John Pelham will be featured.
Jeannine Daigneault presented the library’s report, which showed 486 visitors in January, 25 new cards issued, 109 reference calls and 82 computer users. The library continues to host groups in its meeting room, including the library’s book club, and the tax forms are being offered for $0.30 per page during tax season. A free Medicare class is offered the first Wednesday of every month to help residents learn about Medicare options.
Police Chief Kevin Hughes provided an update on his activities since taking over as chief. He has been working to update credentialing through the Department of Public Safety, completing required reports and is in the process of conducting a thorough written policy review and assessment. He has also conducted an assessment of critical infrastructure, equipment and technology, identifying several areas that need improvement.
New Fire Chief David Gilmore spoke to the council and said that the department is staying busy and thanked the volunteers for assisting him during the transition. He has also been busy been preparing required state reports since taking his position.
EMS Supervisor John Martin reported that the department is now averaging under a five-minute response time and is down to four minutes and 37 seconds, which is well below the national average of 15 minutes.
In his report, Pribble said that preparations are being made for the upcoming Whitney Youth Association season at the city park, and plumbers are still being contacted in an attempt to repair restroom facilities that were vandalized with stainless steel products. The department has also updated a customer service form that can be accessed digitally to allow the city to keep track of recurring or special situations. A water sales audit is also in progress, and Pribble is comparing water sales from 2021 and 2022 to look for any anomalies. This will help determine where to allocate future improvements, such as new water meters.
In open forum, Lake Whitney Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Janice Sanders said that the chamber was encouraging local businesses to participate in the museum’s celebration on March 11. She also encouraged the city to consider signing a resolution in March recognizing Women’s History Month, and noted that the chamber has planned activities, including visiting visit the Women of Whitney exhibit at the museum following a board meeting in March.
The council convened in executive session, and no action was taken when regular session resumed.
The next regularly scheduled city council meeting will be held Thursday, March 16.