After about 20 residents voiced opposition to the construction of a wastewater treatment plant Tuesday night, the Willow Park city council approved two items — an engineering study recommendation and professional services — in 4-1 votes.

The city of Willow Park has been looking at wastewater treatment options following capacity issues with its current facility. The options include constructing a new treatment facility on one of four properties or entering into a wholesale agreement with a neighboring city.

Annetta North and Willow Park ETJ residents expressed concerns specifically to building a plant on a piece of property south of Interstate 20 with discharge of treated wastewater into the Clear Fork Trinity River.

“I have three main concerns. At the last meeting, someone spoke regarding the Clear Fork being deemed an insufficient stream due to low oxygenation levels. I went through the reports, the latest watershed report I found was by a third-party entity from Tarleton [State University] who tested oxygenation levels in 2001 and a report was completed in 2003. This report was finally reviewed and accepted by the TCEQ in 2010. I’m told this is normal,” resident Rachel DeMoss said. “I would like a new assessment. In particular, I don’t see any monitoring in the area where this drainage pump is supposed to go to. There’s not a single monitoring mark, according to the TCEQ on their website. So a 17-year-old report holding our river in this insufficient stream status — and my understanding is this standing is what is allowing you to continue with your plan to dump your city’s wastewater into my city, Annetta North. I would appreciate if environmental considerations could be shown if they have been made I would like for them to be more present.”

DeMoss’ other two concerns were the lack of discussion on other options and the recreational use of the river.

“I don’t see any other options being presented or discussed. Why are we so determined to put this plant in a floodplain? I’ve lived there for 26 years. That water goes very, very far into the field and when your plant floods, and my field is filled with sewage, that’s a problem and that is not being a good neighbor,” DeMoss said. “My third point and probably my most passionate is that this river is recreational. My husband kayaks on the river, my kids fish at least once a week on that river — we see catfish in the river, big catfish — we catch carp in the river, there’s enough oxygen in the river to support the fish. I think the status of this river needs to be assessed.”

Phlemon Wright, president of the McDavid Estates Homeowners Association, said there would be no benefit to the residents when the project is complete.

“It appears the site is within a quarter to half-mile of our nearest resident and a mile from our furthest. There are 174 homes in the subdivision — the majority of these residents fall within the Willow Park extraterritorial jurisdiction. The ETJ gives us no representation on this panel nor will we receive any benefits from this project when completed. I note that from [the city’s] handout you say you haven’t made a rush decision, but it seems from mid-July to now is pretty rushed, and if that’s not rushed it’s still denied us the opportunity to understand the scope of the project and its potential impact on our subdivision,” Wright said. “I do appreciate the fact that you’ve allowed us to speak and I understand there’s more steps in the process, but you’ve been working on this for almost two decades and it seems a little more time could be taken because it’s obvious there’s a lot more questions than the handout has answered and the handout raises a lot more questions, and there’s a lot of misinformation as well circulating in the neighborhoods south of I-20. To approve it tonight without any further delays to allow for more community input will not appear to be the actions of a good neighbor. It will mean that our only recourse will be to fight you at every single step after tonight.”

Christian Ellis said the land is not marked industrial according to the city’s land-use plan and instead is marked for parks and open spaces.

“Now you’re wanting to push on us the placement of a significant, industrial, polluting, odorous sewage plant within a half-mile of my house. This is a terrible development for me and my family. We moved out here from Fort Worth to be with nice people, beautiful land, good neighbors and clean air. That’s what we wanted and many of those things appear to be in jeopardy to us right now,” Ellis said. “We’ll fight for our land if we have to with everything we’ve got, but I’d rather work it out, I’d rather have peace.”

According to an email sent to the city by WP resident Marcy Galle, she believes the current treatment facility can be expanded to accommodate future growth well beyond 2040.

“I do not support the current path forward. I support finding another solution, I support including the public on future plans that will directly affect so many. The current 7.56-acre property where the sewer plant now sits can handle increased infrastructure to accommodate our growth well beyond 2040. I’ve spoken to members of council and staff about other options like offloading the additional discharge northward to Lake Weatherford via 1.7 miles of piping. The current plan is to pump our effluent south into Annetta North for approximately two miles,” according to Galle’s email. “Of course agreements with golf courses are acknowledged by council and staff but discounted because of the lack of ownership rights to the land. Any wholesale option is now met with the narrative of losing our capability to set our own sewer rates. Did we care this much when we signed away our ability to set water rates with Fort Worth? The bottom line is that most of the process to establish a new sewer plant solution has not been discussed in the public. I do not care how many council members claim the project has been discussed for a year if it didn’t happen during council meetings, the public isn’t going to know what is truly happening.”

Several others spoke and wrote-in with concerns about the discharging of the treated water into the river and its effects on wildlife, families and the floodplain.

However, a resident that owns property near the proposed site said he’s not worried about the discharge.

“I’m a licensed professional engineer. My engineering experience is 30 to 40 years old. I did take graduate-level wastewater classes, but I’m a property owner. I’m not worried about the discharge of the sewage treatment plant because the levels and the requirements by the state and the EPA are so strict that the water that will come out of this sewage treatment plant will meet drinking water quality standards. I wouldn’t drink it, but here’s the thing, if you took it to a lab and tested it, it would meet those standards. The Clear Fork gets really low and so what they put out has to be able to support the life of all the fish so as a property owner I’m not worried about the discharge,” Bell said. “It’s gotta happen. Our area is growing like wild, but the plant that they create has got to meet these very strict standards.”

City comments

WP City Manager Bryan Grimes responded to some of the concerns brought forth by the public.

“A couple of things I just want to point out, the city of Willow Park has been dumping into the Clear Fork since 1995. There’s roughly a dozen points of discharge in the Clear Fork in that area from Lake Weatherford to the discussed site, so there’s plenty of effluent, sewer, whatever you want to call it, going into the creek — it’s not just Willow Park putting it in there, there’s other entities doing it as well,” Grimes said. “We’ve heard from 19 [people] and roughly a dozen that came in last week. By my best guess, none of them pay sewer rates in Willow Park. This is a revenue bond, this is not a tax backed bond so this is going on the ratepayers in Willow Park. We have roughly 800 ratepayers, we have roughly 2,200 water accounts, [and] we have roughly 650-700 permitted that are coming online. Those are the individuals that will be paying for this.”

Grimes said entering into a wholesale agreement with the city of Weatherford would be about $25 to $30 million, which would increase sewer rates significantly.

“If we go with Weatherford — the sewer bill here is roughly $50, that’s your average sewer bill — we will have to issue a starting rate of $100 for our ratepayers, $1,200 a year for sewer. So yeah we looked at other options for our ratepayers,” Grimes said. “We’ve talked to Aledo numerous times, we’ve had conversations with Hudson Oaks — we’re not really interested — we had a discussion with Weatherford, that was two years ago and it was $30 million and it hasn’t gotten any cheaper. We discussed with Fort Worth — I think they were kind of excited until they found out what our flow was going to be. Fort Worth is about to build a $130 million plant at Mary’s Creek and we’re going to take up 10% of their capacity. So we have some challenges and I’m going to tell you, this has been painful for some of these council members.”

Place 1 Councilmember Eric Contreras suggested the city create a group that will work on exploring other options for 180 days starting Oct. 1 and amended the motion to include the language.

“I’d like to offer an idea that we create a working group that would have an ultimate goal of working with our school districts, our community representatives and our surrounding neighboring cities to devise a common-sense solution for all of our future needs,” Contreras said. “We want to be proactive in coming up with a solution by engaging our neighbors and to offer solutions to address these needs.”

The motion, which was to accept the recommendation of Jacob and Martin engineering firm to build a wastewater treatment facility at a location to be determined, was approved along with Contreras amendment in a 4-1 vote. Place 2 Councilmember Amy Fennell voted against the motion.

“We’re moving to go ahead with the plan as planned, saying a location to be determined but yet we’re already entering into an option for the piece of property on the south side of the interstate. Within this motion it is a good idea to have a task force and partner with our neighboring cities to come up with a permanent solution,” Fennell said. “However, it seems like that’s just a little accessory bow on it if we’re still just going forward with the original motion.”

But Grimes said there are still four pieces of property the city is looking at for construction.

“Of the four sites, the city owns two of them. The third one is designated a wastewater treatment plant so that property is not going anywhere,” Grimes said. “The option was to be made available so the fourth site could be a potential option. You option the property to basically keep it off the market.”

Another item to enter into professional services agreements with Jacob and Martin for engineering services, Hilltop Securities for financial services and Norton, Rose, Fullbright for bond counsel services related to the wastewater treatment facility was also approved in a 4-1 vote, with Fennell voting against the item.

WP Mayor Doyle Moss said the action taken Tuesday night is not final.

“The action we’re taking is not final and what we hope and plan to do in the coming months, is to reach out again to Aledo, to the Annettas, to Weatherford, and if there’s something that comes up that’s more promising that can satisfy the needs of Willow Park, we will absolutely entertain it,” Moss said. “This is not in stone, this council is not hell-bent on building it down there. We have a need, we addressed the need and that’s why we’re acting on it. We’re going to move forward but in the process, we’re going to talk with people, look at other options and if something else comes up, we will do that.”

Questions about the wastewater treatment plant can be emailed to info@willowpark.org.

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