San Benito settlement echoes engineer’s 2014 advice

SAN BENITO — More than three years ago, the city rejected a proposal aimed at putting its $17 million water plant back into operation.

Instead, commissioners filed a lawsuit.

Now, that lawsuit set-tlement offers similar re-medial steps, according to Orlando Cruz, the city’s former longtime contracted engineer.

Last week, the city released settlement details showing Evoqua Water Technologies has offered to supply filter membranes to help put the water plant back into operation.

At the time they filed the lawsuit, commissioners shut down the water plant that opened in 2009, and launched a $3 million project aimed to turn the city’s 90-year-old water plant into the primary water source.

Yesterday, Cruz, once a defendant in the lawsuit, said he had recommended the city install new mem-branes before the city shut down the water plant, filed the lawsuit and launched the multimillion dollar project on the old plant.

“They ended up with the same membranes,” Cruz said about now, after the settlement and more than three years.

In July 2014, Cruz, who helped design the plant, presented commissioners with a report recommending the city replace the plant’s membranes to put it back into operation.

“Replacement of the membranes should proceed immediately (at a pro-rated) cost) due to the city needing to have reliable water facilities in place at all times and not further risk the health and welfare or the community and its residents,” Cruz wrote in the report.

Cruz recommended the city work with Siemens Corp., whose name is now Evoqua, to replace the membranes used in the plant that opened in 2009.

What agreement said

Under an agreement, Siemens guaranteed the membranes for 10 years at a pro-rated rate, Cruz said.

Because the plant had used the company’s membranes for about five years, he said, Siemens would have replaced them for about $100,000.

“It should be noted that the city already has had five years of use (good and bad) with the existing membrane with membranes that are expected to last 10 years,” the report stated. “Purchasing new membranes at the pro-rated cost would get the city new membranes that could last 10 years with proper maintenance and plant operations.”

Cruz suggested litigation should not stand in the way of the membranes’ replacement.

“Immediate replacement should not be altered by any pending or contem-plated litigation which the city may deem necessary or choose to move forward with,” the report stated.

“An extended legal process could restrict the city in getting new membrane replacements ordered and delivered in a timely manner, would further make demands on the older existing (water plant).”

Training needed

In the report, Cruz also recommended the city train staff to properly oper-ate the water plant.

“The city should proceed in making changes to the plant’s operations includ-ing more plant personnel training …,” the report stated.

Last week, the city re-leased settlement details showing Evoqua Water Technologies has agreed to work with the city to put the water plant back into operation.

Now what happens

Under the settlement, Evoqua will help the city “restore production of drinking water at the plant to six million gallons of clean water per day,” according to a city press release.

The company will also “supply the plant with training and enough state-of-the-art upgraded membranes designed to provide the best ultra-filtration available and enable the plant to ultimately produce and deliver 10 (million gallons per day) in the future.”

As part of the agreement, Evoqua will give the city a payment.

The city also reached a monetary resolution stemming from claims against TRC Engineering.

But the city could not disclose information regarding the Evoqua payment and the TRC resolution, city spokeswoman Martha McClain said.

Last week, the Valley Morning Star filed a re-quest under the Texas Public Information Act for release of additional information.

How we got here

In June, the city announced the settlement in the lawsuit against Siemens Corp., Evoqua and other companies involved in the water plant’s design and construction.

Cruz, who had filed a counter suit against the city, had been dropped from the original suit.

The city filed the lawsuit in 2014, arguing the water plant “never operated efficiently except in the early months of operation.”

At the same time, commissioners decided to shut down the water plant.

Meanwhile, commissioners launched a $3 million project to renovate the city 90-year-old water plant, aiming to turn it into the main water source.

But in September 2016 and last January, the old plant temporarily shut down, cutting water service across town.

As part of an agreement, Harlingen provided the city with water used to temporarily serve the city’s homes and businesses.