The yellow circle on the map marks the spot of the proposed Windemere Development, which would be partially serviced by a controversial wastewater project. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
Facing occasional instances of sewage flowing down San Marcos streets as some residents fume that a proposed wastewater line to fix the problem may encourage more houses over aquifer recharge land, the City of San Marcos is proceeding with the Sink Creek Interceptor Phase II project.
The $3,910,000 project, slated for completion in August 2010, entails the installation of a new wastewater line from North LBJ Drive to Oak Ridge, onwards across underneath Sink Creek to Lime Kiln Road near Spring Lake Preserve. The city is attempting to acquire easements for the wastewater line, which may entail the city forcing owners to sell parts of their property.
“There are many questions that I wish you would ask regarding this wastewater line,” San Marcos River Foundation President Dianne Wassenich told the city council Tuesday evening.. Like, why not refurbish existing lift stations or otherwise re-route wastewater lines in order to avoid new construction in the most environmentally-sensitive area in Hays County? Try to protect our Spring Lake and our river, from destroying its water quality, which will happen if you develop that area. I would also like for you to look into the true construction costs and the environmental impacts in regards to endangered species, the springs, our recharge quality and quantity, the on-site cave and karst features and vaults in that area. Don’t move forward with this project without understanding the consequences.”
Capital Improvements Department Senior Engineer Jennifer Shell said the project has been in the works since 1994. Shell said the final route of the wastewater line was finalized after due diligence on the part of city staff and the council, which hired LAN, Inc. to examine alternative routes and to carry out design work. Shell said refurbishing existing wastewater lines would entail undue hardship to residents.
Councilmembers Chris Jones later asked Shell what effects a refurbishment of existing lines would have on residents in the long-term. Shell replied that there is not enough room for a second line along North LBJ Drive and Sessom Drive, where sewage overflows occasionally occur.
“All of the existing infrastructure could be replaced down LBJ, Sessom, and C.M. Allen Parkway,” said Shell after the meeting, echoing her earlier comments to Jones. “That would affect half the city every day for one year – and the (San Marcos) River and (Sink) Creek. (LAN, Inc.) did look at that, and, I mean, I keep looking at it, going, ‘Can we please just not go through Sink Creek?’ But this is (the best way).”
San Marcos Capital Improvements Director David Healey said moving forward with the Sink Creek Interceptor Project, which also entails removing three lift stations and installing a new station, will eliminate maintenance costs to the remaining machinery and increase capacity. The new lift station (a pump that moves sewage uphill) will replace the existing station at Craddock Avenue and North LBJ Drive.
Because the current eight-inch pipe linking the lift stations in the area is near capacity, the Sink Creek Interceptor Project calls for a new 21-inch wastewater line to replace the existing lines. Healey and Shell said the resultant increase in wastewater capacity will eliminate the instances of sewage running down the streets after heavy rains.
“It comes down Sessom, which is very steep, and then comes around Aquarena (Springs Drive) where it turns into C.M. Allen (Parkway), and that’s where we have the overflows,” Shell said. “And we have some overflows on Sessom, where it comes off LBJ (Drive), because it’s coming down LBJ so fast, hits Sessom, flattens out a little bit, and then it just backs up because there’s so much coming down the hill.”
Shell said she doesn’t think any sewage overflow events have occurred lately, though she said it might have during the last bouts of heavy rain.
Sink Creek, under which workers will bore a hole for the wastewater line, discharges large amounts of stormwater runoff from the north into Spring Lake. Any chemicals or sediments backed up by the flood control dam may enter the lake. Shell told councilmembers that construction workers will install the sewer line “far enough down the creek so they are an adequate distance from the dam to avoid disturbing it.”
Between Oak Ridge Drive and Lime Kiln road, the new 21-inch sewer pipes would run along the proposed Windemere Development, a 230-plus acre mixed use project on Edwards Aquifer recharge land, about a mile northwest of Post Road near Spring Lake Preserve. Without the wastewater line entailed by the Sink Creek Interceptor Project, the Windemere Development cannot be completed.
In early June, residents living near the proposed Windemere development turned out to voice their opposition, saying the development would worsen traffic and result in pollutants entering the aquifer and Spring Lake.
The city and the State of Texas have regulations intended to prevent undue pollution of the aquifer, which supplies water to about 1.7 million people. City law forbids developers from constructing nonporous surfaces in the recharge zone that average more than 20 percent of the development’s area. The aquifer is also the source of Spring Lake and the San Marcos River, which is home to several endangered species, including Texas Wild Rice, which occurs in no other natural environment.
“This project will serve their development, but it won’t be their main line,” Shell said, speaking of the Windemere Development before the city council. “They’ll have to have their own smaller lines parallel to ours on all the streets to get everyone’s houses into the small line, and then they’ll dump into our large line. We’re not doing their work for them, per se.”
City council members voted 6-1 in early June to annex 22.5 acres of land constituting part of the proposed Windemere Development. Thomas Haug and Vince Wood proposed in June that their development would include 40 units of town homes and two lots of neighborhood commercial buildings – an increase in density over what is currently stipulated in the city’s land use map, which specifies “very low density residential development.” The city annexed a 212-acre tract of the proposed Windemere Development in 2007. Wood and Haug proposed the 212-acre portion of their property to accommodate 67 1/4-acre lots, 96 1/2-acre lots and 47 3/4-acre lots.
“The future (wastewater) line was sized to handle current flows that are in the lift stations now, and future flows from the surrounding areas where the line will be placed – but those future flows are only based on the city’s already-adopted future land use map,” Shell told the council. “So, if a developer comes in and would like to increase the density of the development in the area around Sink Creek that’s not already been approved … the line would have to be re-evaluated to see if it could take the additional flows.”
San Marcos Assistant City Manager Laurie Moyer said the city’s land development code requires that any development of 75 or more structures must two access points. Moyer said the Windemere developers are currently unable to construct a secondary access point, adding that they plan to use a divided boulevard as an entrance and exit.
“In order to build a divided boulevard, they need to acquire 108 feet of right-of-way, per our code,” Moyer said. “So the 60 feet we are requiring does not meet their need.”
After being presented with the update on the Sink Creek Intercepter Project, Councilmember Kim Porterfield asked city staff if the wastewater line is adequate to serve the land uses specified by the Windemere development. Moyer replied in the affirmative, but added that the project is not being undertaken for the benefit of the development, though it is tangentially beneficial. Councilmember John Thomaides asked if the city needs 60 feet of right-of-way for a 21-inch pipe.
“Why would we go for 60 feet?” Thomaides said. “It seems like we’re doing that so we can get a road out of it. That’s kind of what it seems like, and I think most people in the community are concerned about that … There’s some property owners that the right-of-way would go through that don’t want to sell, right? That’s the issue.”
Moyer replied that the reason the city is seeking the right-of-way at the same time as the easements for the sewer line is that the two items overlap.
“And there is one particular, small strip of property that bisects some property owners,” Moyer added. “And it makes sense if we’re going to acquire that, that we go ahead and acquire for the roadway too. When you don’t have a willing property owner, you want to just work with them one time. Most people want to be worked with one time … We have received some guidance from the council on this, and that’s the way we’ve proceeded.”
Half the cost of installing the new 21-inch sewer line will be charged to utility customers and half will be funded by impact fees on all new development in the city.