Facing the prospect of a years-long dispute over a sewage plant, Granbury will pause all new development in the city’s eastern corridor for at least six more months after a unanimous City Council vote last week.
The moratorium on new construction, originally adopted in December, will now last through Oct. 5 and can be extended if necessary.
If Granbury’s single wastewater treatment plant begins to operate at 90% or more of its capacity, the pause on development could be expanded to the entire city, according to Alex Southern, the city’s spokesperson. In an email, Southern said the plant is running at about 65% of its capacity.
“As quickly as Granbury is growing, especially on our east side heading toward Fort Worth, that will probably happen sooner than later if we don’t get another (wastewater treatment plant) online,” Southern said.
The vote comes as Granbury awaits a final decision from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regarding a permit application to build a new plant discharging up to 2 million gallons of treated wastewater per day into a tributary of Rucker Creek, which flows into Lake Granbury and the Brazos River.
While the city’s permit earned initial approval in May, a group of Hood County property owners known as Granbury Fresh rallied more than 400 households to submit comments to the TCEQ opposing the permit, leader Victoria Calder told the Star-Telegram last year.
Many of those residents expressed concern that the wastewater effluent could lead to negative impacts on water quality and property values, with the possibility of causing algae blooms and massive fish kills.
“In a perfect, perfect world, it might never smell,” Calder said in September. “In a perfect, perfect world, we might not ever have a raw sewage spill or it may not have the contaminants. But it’s not a perfect world. Raw sewage spills happen and they will happen here … and it could be extremely dangerous for the public welfare and public health interest.”
Granbury Fresh members and city officials alike agree that the city of about 10,000 people needs additional wastewater treatment services to meet demand in Hood County, one of the fastest growing counties in the country, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. But they disagree on how the city should approach the problem.
Now, more than seven months after the TCEQ held a public meeting with residents and Granbury officials, the state environmental agency has not issued a response to comments or a decision on the application. The COVID-19 pandemic and the large number of comments submitted by Hood County residents may have contributed to the delay, according to Calder.
Once the response to comments is issued, Granbury Fresh’s attorney is prepared to file for a contested case hearing if necessary, Calder said. Residents affected by a permit application have the right to request a hearing, which is similar to a civil trial in state district court.
City manager Chris Coffman has referred to the hearing as a “lawsuit” that Granbury will have to defend against.
“Unfortunately it is almost a certainty in cases like this, and is a shame because it doesn’t help anyone and only drags out the process by months and sometimes years,” Southern said by email.
Calder and fellow Granbury Fresh leader Anita Branch spoke in support of the moratorium during the council meeting, urging city officials to explore options such as expanding the existing treatment plant or building a regional treatment plant in a different location. In a heated exchange with Calder, Coffman said expanding the current treatment plant is not possible.
Branch and Calder also questioned whether the 180-day extension was enough time to resolve disputes over the permit.
“A moratorium that lasts an additional six months is not going to get us to the end of the resolution of this standoff that we have at this time,” Branch, a retired engineer, said. “It’s going to take at least three years to get through the contested case hearings, and then 12 to 18 months on top of that … before the construction of the sewage treatment plant would be complete.”
Beyond upgrading its wastewater technology to a more efficient process, Granbury is not considering other options to build treatment capacity, public works director Rick Crownover said in December.
Caught in the middle of the debate are developers hoping to build in east Granbury. Phil Hope, the managing director of Hope Development Partners, asked Granbury officials to not suspend all development activity that takes place before construction, such as discussing future plans with city engineers. Coffman said he would meet with developers about the issue.
“Allow the development community to come in and talk through all of the processes they would have to go through anyway, but not to a point that they have to apply for applications for construction,” Hope said. “We support the moratorium and want this thing resolved as soon as you can get it resolved … We have no ax to grind on where (the plant) is located, just that it gets done.”