Sunday, February 22, 2015
Trophy Club MUD Future Clouded by Criminal Investigation, Lawsuits, Violations
Trophy Club Municipal Utility District (MUD) customers hoping for resolution of the MUD’s decades old wastewater woes got no relief from the discussions at the February 2, 2015 special meeting.
All directors were in attendance to hear details about the latest violations at the MUD’s wastewater treatment plant. The violations occurred on January 22 and January 23 when untreated sewage bypassed the plant’s treatment system and flowed into a small creek that empties into Grapevine Lake.
According to the manager of the wastewater treatment plant, the bypass of the treatment system resulted in extremely high concentrations of E coli in the creek that were the highest possible for the analytical method used. Director Jim Thomas expressed concern that the resultant fine could cost the MUD as much as $200,000.
These violations could not have come at a worse time for the Trophy Club MUD. Within the last two years the MUD has experienced a criminal investigation that resulted in a plea agreement with a wastewater treatment plant employee, an agreed enforcement order by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) that levied a $50,000 fine and multiple lawsuits in Tarrant and Denton County against municipalities and developers.
At issue is the Trophy Club MUD’s very existence. MUD Directors currently claim to need in excess of $9 Million to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant to meet permit limits. Litigants opposed to the MUD have pointed out that the data supporting this expenditure is suspect; having been produced by a MUD employee who has confessed to falsifying the discharge monitoring reports the data comes from. The data somewhat supports these litigants as the violations in the past appear to have been more related to negligence than the size of the treatment plant.
In the past the MUD treatment plant was operated for approximately 17 years without a backup generator. In some cases, samples to document compliance with permit limits were not even taken by the treatment plant employees.
MUD Directors compounded the problem by trying to cover up the issues. As early as 2009, Director Steven Kohs was censured by the other Directors for discussing “non-existent violations” at the treatment plant. In affidavits submitted in a lawsuit against Director Kohs, Director Jim Hase and Kevin Carr both claimed to possess a letter from EPA documenting compliance at the wastewater treatment plant. Although it would appear to be a very valuable document for a permittee in the Trophy Club MUD’s situation, there appears to be no such document.
A quick look around the immediate area reveals future options for the Town of Trophy Club and Westlake that do not involve a MUD at all. The Trinity River Authority (TRA) operates a treatment facility within a few miles of the trophy club plant that has not experienced the compliance problems the Trophy Club Mud plant faces. Current regulatory guidance available from TCEQ details the benefits a wastewater treatment plant in violation of its permit can realize by using a regional approach.
If the MUD wastewater treatment plant beside Grapevine Lake were bypassed and the effluent instead routed to the TRA facility, for the first time in 40 years there would no longer be a need for a Municipal Utility District in Trophy Club. Not surprisingly, a Blue Ribbon Committee convened by the Trophy Club MUD Directors never even considered this published TCEQ guidance.
Although the TCEQ has the ability to issue a Cease and Desist letter to any permittee, this enforcement approach is rarely employed. A more likely outcome of these violations and resulting lawsuits is that the MUD’s customers and taxpayers will foot the bill.
On a positive note; at least two groups are seeing a windfall from all these problems. Trophy Club MUD legal fees for the year are near $1 Million and MUD Directors convening special meetings are doubling their monthly meeting reimbursement.