Socorro-Horizon wastewater fight goes on

Source: El Paso Times (TX), March 28, 2011
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

A fight between the Horizon Municipal Utility District and the city of Socorro over a wastewater discharge project here continues.

Most recently, a district judge ruled the Horizon Municipal Utility District has to get proper permits to continue with the project.

However, Benny Davis, president of the Horizon Municipal Utility District board of directors, said the district is appealing the court’s decision.

The Horizon Municipal Utility District sued Socorro in November for allegedly not letting them finish a $2.2 million wastewater discharge project in the Mesa Spur Drain, an irrigation canal owned and operated by El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1.

In a written statement, the city of Socorro said a judge ruled the utility district has to apply for the permits in order to discharge three million gallons of wastewater per day through a pipeline that flows into the Mesa Spur Drain.

Socorro officials said these rules are designed to protect the Lower Valley community’s public health and safety.

Davis said the project would not harm Socorro’s citizens. He said Socorro officials are using false statements to scare residents.

“In the first place, they should not have people playing in the drain,” he said. “They have no facts to support their statement.”

Manny Soto, interim city manager, said the utility district believes it is above the law.

“The city must protect the health and safety of our residents and will not be shaken by these bully tactics,” he said.

Socorro officials said the Horizon utility district would force the city to spend more taxpayers’ money in defense against the appeal.

The city of Socorro hired attorney Yuri Calderon, who practices law in San Diego and has offices in Houston, Los Angeles and Denver.

City officials do not have the exact amount the city is paying Calderon, but it could be up to $100,000.

Calderon has worked for the Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista, Calif., where Jesus Gandara, father of city Rep. Jesse Gandara and brother of Mayor Guillermo Gandara, works as superintendent.

According to the lawsuit, Socorro asked the Horizon utility district to comply with a series of permits, including the application for a zone change, for the construction of a rock wall and the installation of a pipeline within city limits.

The document states that Socorro has denied these permits and the utility district has not been able to complete the project, which was due to be finished by the end of 2010.

Davis said because the Horizon Municipal Utility District has not been able to complete the project in Socorro, the utility district faces additional legal issues.

The Horizon Municipal Utility District sued the owner of a golf course in Horizon where the district is currently discharging wastewater.

Davis said the owner is not cooperating with the district to meet Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requirements.

The city of Socorro has also asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to revoke the Horizon Municipal Utility District’s permit to discharge wastewater in Socorro.

Socorro officials said they found out about the project last year by accident.

Davis said the state was in charge of making any necessary notifications.

Even though there was not an official notice given the city of Socorro, it is hard to believe Socorro officials were not aware of the project, Davis said.

Davis also said there were several legal notices published in the newspaper.

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