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Meeting on proposed wastewater plant set

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Posted: Wednesday, August 7, 2019 12:00 pm

A public meeting has been scheduled for Aug. 26 in Bandera on an application for a wastewater treatment permit for a Christian youth camp planned near Tarpley that has generated enough protests from area property owners and concerned citizens to get the proposed permit changed.

Property owners and area resident concerned about Commissioners Creek and Hondo Creek near Tarpley banded together to form a group called the Friends of Hondo Canyon that opposes the proposed wastewater treatment sought by a company called RR 417 LLC.

That protest group claims the discharge as originally proposed would damage the environmental quality of the area creeks, which tests have shown currently are almost free of contaminants.

Sam Torn, the president of RR 417 and the developer of the camp, said he worked with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and his engineers after hearing those concerns and came up with a revision that he hoped would address critics’ concerns and still allow his team to develop a wastewater system adequate for the proposed camp.

That revision modifies the original plan calling for a treatment plant capable of handling up to 49,000 gallons a day of wastewater to a hybrid plan calling for the creation of a land application system for 75 percent of the wastewater generated by the camp.  That would deposit that effluent on property as a form of fertilizer rather than releasing treated wastewater into the creek.

The camp’s operators would be authorized to release 25 percent of the effluent as treated wastewater down Commissioners Creek, which feeds into Hondo Creek, under the modified permit only when rains are so heavy that the soil where the effluent normally would be deposited is so saturated it would not allow the wastewater to be absorbed.

Torn said while the revised permit would allow the camp to release 25 percent of its treated wastewater into Commissoners Creek, the development’s intent would be to never discharge any treated effluent down the creek, even as the camp grows and its wastewater supply increases.

“We feel we’ve gone above and beyond in being a good neighbor and protecting the environment,” said Torn.  “The reason we’re doing this is to do the fairest thing available to our immediate neighbors.”

Margo Denke, a guiding force in the development of the Friends of Hondo Canyon and the owner of property about a mile-and-a-half down Commissioners Creek from the proposed camp, said she and the friends group believe the proposed changes are not adequate.

She said they would prefer that a new permit be sought authorizing a 100 percent land application treatment system that would assure no effluent is ever released into the creek.

With the 75 percent land application plan, effluent could still be released into the creek, which “would be a game changer” in regard to how pure the creek is, Denke said.

The creek does not have enough water flow to dissipate the treated effluent released into the creek adequately, she said.  In addition, the limestone bottoms of the creek have crevices that could allow pollutants to seep into the underground aquifer.

No pollution discharge permit has ever been authorized in the upper Nueces River basin, which is where Commissioners Creek is located, Denke said, and she said her organization will fight to see that this permit does not change that.

“The creek cannot handle any discharge,” she said.

What is contained in the proposed wastewater permit will be reviewed at the public meeting the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has scheduled for the Mansfield Park recreation hall on Aug. 26.  The hall is located at 2886 Highway 16 North outside of Bandera.

Those attending the meeting will be allowed to ask questions about the permit in the first portion of the meeting and can make comments during the second portion.  TCEQ staff will provide responses to comments that raise timely and significant issues about the proposal, a notice about the hearing said.

Two reviews by the commission have determined preliminarily that the use of the initial wastewater treatment plant proposed by RR 417 would not impair water quality in the creek, but no information was available about the commission’s assessment of the modified treatment proposal.

Comments made at the upcoming meeting could have a bearing on what additional reviews the proposed permit is exposed to, officials said.  A contested case hearing is one of the options available in that review, but TCEQ commissioners would have to decide whether that is needed.

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