During a Helotes City Council meeting held last night, Helotes residents urged the city council to consider a resolution in opposition to an on-site wastewater treatment facility for Guajolote Ranch, a proposed development in Northwest Bexar County. No decision on the resolution was made by council at the meeting.
Municipal Operations, LLC, is seeking approval from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for an on-site wastewater treatment facility to service the proposed Guajolote Ranch subdivision. If the wastewater treatment facility is approved, Lennar Homes, a home construction company based in Florida, will proceed with the development of 2,900 homes in a 1,160 acre tract located just outside of Grey Forest.
Helotes resident Dr. Stuart Birnbaum, an emeritus associate professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UTSA, and a board member of the Trinity Glen Rose Groundwater Conservation District, explained the direct impact this facility would have on Helotes Creek.
“When the Guajolote Ranch is fully built out, it is designed to release 1 million gallons on average into the headwaters of Helotes Creek, including 2-hour peaks not to exceed 4 million gallons,” said Birnbaum in his comments to council.
He added that the wastewater treatment facility would pose a threat to the quality of the water in Helotes Creek, and cited the real possibility of problems with the effluent discharge based on system failures at similar wastewater facilities in Bexar County.
Helotes city councilmember Cynthia Massey presented a report to council from the TCEQ public hearing on the project application held earlier this week at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in San Antonio. Massey, who also serves as Helotes mayor pro tem, attended the public hearing as a representative for the city of Helotes.
In public comment at the TCEQ meeting, Massey expressed concerns about the wastewater application due to the direct impact it could have on Helotes. According to Massey, Old Town Helotes could experience severe flooding with “extra running water from the treatment plant, coupled with heavy rainfall.”
Because the TCEQ staff only examined a small portion of the creek near the discharge point, Massey asserted in her public comments to TCEQ that she believes the agency is not doing due diligence in the application process. “If the treated wastewater is going to flow down the length of Helotes Creek, then those properties downstream need to be taken into consideration,” she said.
Over 250 residents attended the TCEQ hearing, and many provided public comments on a variety of complaints, including pollution of the Edwards Aquifer and San Antonio’s drinking water, failure of the TCEQ to notify residents along Helotes creek and lack of oversight of the facility.
Britt Coleman, president of the Bexar Audubon Society, expressed concerns about the stormwater that will be created when Lennar Homes clears the land for 2,900 homes in Guajolote Ranch. Even if the treatment facility works as it is designed, the real challenge will come with storm water run-off, explained Coleman. He expressed frustration that stormwater and flooding are outside of TCEQ’s jurisdiction, and urged TCEQ to take a holistic approach when making decisions that impact the safety of Texas waterways.
“The real damage isn’t the wastewater treatment plan because I believe they will do a fairly good job of keeping that water clean–except when there is a failure,” said Coleman. “But the real problem will come when Lennar starts the construction process and brings in the equipment to scrape everything off the surface for the development, and then it rains, and then you have storm-water run off into the creek.”
Now that the TCEQ public meeting and public comment period has concluded the agency must respond to every question asked at the hearing in-person as well as those submitted on-line. This research is expected to take several months. The Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance has formally requested a contested hearing from the TCEQ, and, if granted, the legal proceeding will be the next step in the process.
Helotes residents may still provide input on the project during the citizens to be heard portion of any Helotes City Council meeting. The next regularly scheduled Helotes City Council meeting will be held on May 25 at 7 p.m. at Helotes City Hall.