By JACOB LOPEZ
Harlingen-based Cruz-Hogan Consultants, one of several firms named as a defendant in a lawsuit claiming deficiencies associated with a $17 million water treatment plant it was contracted to design, has alleged in a statement that the San Benito City Commission is being “mislead” by City Manager Manuel Lara and City Attorney Ricardo Morado.
The suit, which the city filed with the 444th District Court on Aug. 25, alleges that a faulty design is to blame for Water Treatment Plant No. 2’s shutdown, but Cruz-Hogan argues that “it was never properly operated as it was intended.”
The statement issued by Cruz-Hogan on Friday, Sept. 5, reads that in 2014, the committee requested that Cruz-Hogan investigate the plant’s failure.
The statement further alleges the following: “After an extensive investigation, Cruz-Hogan engineers found that the failure of the water plant to properly operate was partly due to the failure of the City staff to properly maintain, operate and clean the water plant’s membranes.”
According to Cruz-Hogan, the city hired Lou Portillo and Associates PLLC as well as Coym, Rehmet & Gutierrez Engineering LP to independently inspect the membranes, finding that “improper cleaning of the membranes lead to their fouling.”
Cruz-Hogan, however, stated in its statement that it had prepared a written report to present to the city but alleged that Morado blocked it on three separate occasions, “thus keeping the Commission in the dark for over two months as to the root causes of the water plant’s failure.”
When Cruz-Hogan was allowed to make its presentation after its fourth attempt, the decision to file suit had already been made, the statement read.
Cruz-Hogan also alleged that the plant’s membranes are warranted for 10 years – information Cruz-Hogan further alleged “the City has failed to share with the citizens of San Benito.”
The prorated cost for replacement of the membranes would run at roughly $100,000 if as much is confirmed. This, Cruz-Hogan states, “would restore integrity to the water plant.”
Cruz-Hogan also calls continued operation of the original plant, built in 1927, “very risky” while Plant No. 2 is out of commission.
“It is our opinion that the City Commission is being mislead and is making decisions based on deceptive information from City Management and their legal counsel,” the statement further read.
Still, Morado sees things differently.
In a prepared statement Morado issued to the News on Tuesday, the city attorney responded to Cruz-Hogan’s accusations.
“The City of San Benito was promised a fully functional water treatment plant that would provide to the City’s needs for many years to come,” Morado stated. “The City of San Benito did not receive what it was promised. In investigating the problems at the water treatment plant, the San Benito City Commission carefully considered all information available, including the report presented by Cruz-Hogan Consultants, prior to making its decision to file a lawsuit against various parties involved in the design and construction of the city’s newest water treatment plant.
“In support of its claims asserted in the lawsuit,” Morado continued, “the City of San Benito filed a Certificate of Merit issued by Dr. Benny Freeman, a licensed engineer and professor of engineering employed by the University of Texas at Austin, in which Dr. Freeman expresses his opinions regarding the negligence and other acts, errors or omissions committed by the defendants named in the lawsuit.”
Although Morado cited pending litigation as reason why the City Commission is currently withholding comment on these matters, he noted the following in his statement:
“The San Benito City Commission has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that the people of San Benito receive the full benefit of the recently constructed water treatment plant and to hold accountable those who are responsible for the plant’s deficiencies. Simply put, the City of San Benito deserves the water treatment plant that it was promised and that the City paid for and will take all appropriate steps to ensure the City receives what it was promised.”
Other defendants named in the lawsuit are Evoqua Water Technologies, LLC; U.S. Filter Wastewater Group Inc.; Siemens Corporation; and CSA Construction, Inc. Among the allegations made in the suit include: negligence, negligent misrepresentation, fraud, breach of warranty, breach of contract and violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
The City is seeking damages and has requested a trial jury.