UPDATE: City Council voted 5-2 on October 19, 2020, to approve a 1% match in the $65 million dollar CDBG-MIT grant application at the October 19th meeting. Here’s a link to the meeting. Start about 4.30 into the meeting. Very interesting.
Bellaire is committed to pay over $650,000 if the grant is awarded and the City accepts it. Even while approving this application some Council members expressed uncertainty about accepting the grant, which includes the demolition of our wastewater treatment plant.
Which begs the question, since Council has in essence approved the loss of the wastewater treatment plant by their past votes on the issue, why would they vote down acceptance if the grant is approved? And what would that mean for Bellaire?
How would it affect our image as an affluent community? Both West University and Southside Place have their own wastewater facilities, while we would be tied to the City of Houston facilities. People purchase a home in Bellaire because they prefer a small town, well located, that is not part of Houston.
The only Council members voting against were Lewis and Hotze.
Do we really want to pay the City of Houston to take over our wastewater treatment? Would the loss of our municipal wastewater treatment plant save Bellaire from flooding? Bellaire residents have until October 27th to comment on this plan.
Interim-City Manager Brant Gary made a presentation to City Council in September 2020 and a second one on October 5, 2020, regarding the Community Development Block Grant-MIT program offered through the Texas General Land Office. He requested Council’s approval to submit a $65 million dollar flood mitigation grant that would include the demolition of our Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).
The land, including the existing Public Works buildings, would give way to some sort of a detention area in the vicinity of Lafayette Park, the Officer Lucy Dog Park, and private residences. No plans were presented for the detention area. This was last minute notice, since the application deadline is October 28, 2020. Find a recent article on this proposal here. Click on The Wastewater Treatment Plant and the CDBG-MIT
Bellaire’s wastewater plant would be gone, and wastewater would be routed to the City of Houston’s Almeda Sims plant via an 8 to 9 mile long pipeline. Public Works would be relocated. Land and new buildings are included in the grant but not a new wastewater treatment plant. Here’s the link to the October 5, 2020 Council meeting. The October 5th CDBG workshop begins about 3 minutes into the meeting. I encourage everyone to listen to it.
Three small cities, including Galena Park, were mentioned as customers of COH for wastewater treatment. Since no cost comparisons were included in the presentation I called Galena Park to verify their monthly service charge and to ask about the service. I was informed that they have their own WWTP and I emailed the Mayor and members of City Council with this information.
It turns out there’s a small area of Galena Park called Woodland Acres, consisting of 343 homes separated from the main area of Galena Park by industrial areas, a marshalling yard, and a bayou. Galena Park pays the City of Houston $12,000 per month for wastewater treatment in that area. Woodland Acres is the area on the Galena Park map located at the northeast corner of Galena Park.
If you extrapolate the cost to Galena Park, that’s about $23 per home per month. Bellaire has 6000+ homes. At an average of $23 per home that’s about $140,000 a month or $1.7 million a year. Perhaps the cost would be much lower, but since no cost estimates were presented, other than $1.638 per thousand gallons, who knows?
The low to medium income area requirement in the grant is also a concern but I-CM Gary had assured council that would be covered by areas in Houston. The State’s tie breaker in scoring between applications is the higher poverty rate. It’s worthwhile to explore City of Houston personnel’s involvement in this grant, too, as there must be some agreement in place and they stand to benefit from this grant.
Brant Gary also explained at the October 5th meeting that Bellaire’s match would be about 1% of a $65 million dollar grant, and mentioned a commitment of 1% in the presentation. Council approved the request to move ahead with the application 7-0.
Posted on the agenda for the October 19, 2020, Council meeting is an item requesting that Council commit $650,000 in matching funds now for the project. However a match is not required by the GLO, it just adds 5 points to the score.
Council will make this decision before the grant is even awarded or a decision is made to accept it. There has been little or no feedback from the residents about this grant, losing our wastewater treatment plant, or about committing $650,000 to a match that is not a requirement.
Why Not Just Say No?
The Mayor suggested at the October 5th meeting that approval of this grant application did not commit the Council to accept the grant, so why not move ahead. But it seems to me that Council’s 7-0 vote shows that in exchange for that $65 million they are willing to approve such a change and hand over control of our wastewater treatment to the City of Houston. What that means for Bellaire’s future is uncertain.
We will continue to pay down the $7.5 million for the Siemens contract to repair the wastewater treatment plant even if it’s gone. No one asked about the project management costs in the Siemens agreement if the plant is demolished. Would those costs be reduced?
We would still be responsible for remediation and development of the detention area, plus the continuing costs for City wastewater lines, lift stations, and personnel. And we have no idea if this would result in savings to the City or aid in flood mitigation for Bellaire. Our cost for Houston water seems to increase every year, with no alternative. Would the same hold true for wastewater treatment?
Soliciting feedback from Bellaire residents by October 27th was mentioned at the October 5th meeting, but the only notice I’ve seen is from the Southwest News. And as you can deduce, I am not in favor of losing our WWTP and relying on Houston. I’ll be emailing City Council with my thoughts and I encourage all Bellaire residents to do the same.
Please research this issue and let the Mayor and City Council know what you think, pro or con, by October 27th!
Email our City Clerk, Tracy Dutton at email@example.com, and ask her to forward it to the Mayor and City Council.
The City debt outstanding at September 30, 2020 will be approximately $116.4 million. However, there remains $6 million of unissued voter approved bond authority under the Bonds for Better Bellaire 2016 program.