By JACOB LOPEZ
Built in 1927, San Benito’s Water Treatment Plant No. 1 is considered a historical landmark.
Yet the question still stands: How much longer can it remain in working order and provide adequate water to the citizens of San Benito now that Water Treatment Plant No. 2, a $17 million state-of-the-art facility is inoperable after being plagued by malfunctions.
On Monday, Aug. 25, the City of San Benito filed a lawsuit against multiple companies associated with the design and construction of Plant No. 2 for its reported deficiencies.
Those companies are: Evoqua Water Technologies, LLC; U.S. Filter Wastewater Group, Inc., Siemens Corporation, CSA Construction, Inc. and Cruz-Hogan Consultants, Inc.
The City and its legal counsel allege that Plant No. 2 — built in 2009 — never functioned as intended.
Cruz-Hogan, one of the defendants named in the suit, argues that the City is being “mislead” by its attorney and its city manager.
Meanwhile, 87-year-old Plant No. 1 continues to service the city while the defendants and the City prepare to battle in court.
Hector “Chuck” Jalomo, assistant city manager of the City of San Benito, said, “Water Plant No. 1 … it’s working okay.”
“Because a decision had been made when the new plant came on board that this one [Plant 1] would be demolished within so many years,” said Jalomo, “we weren’t putting any money in it, because the plans were that it would be demolished in the near future.”
At a recent City meeting, elected officials approved an action to have Lou Portillo and Associates PLLC to assess Plant No. 1.
Jalomo says that Portillo plans “to tell the commission what needs to be done to it at the present time, so it can continue to serve the community,” adding that, “I don’t know how long the other one’s [Plant No. 2] is going to be out.”
“Basically, he was hired to come do an assessment on the plant,” said Jalomo.
Should Plant No. 1 go offline, Jalomo said that the City has an agreement with Harlingen to provide water to San Benito.
“We entered this agreement … I think it was 2002 or 2003, and we have this large, interconnected waterline,” explained Jalomo. “It’s a 20-inch waterline that’s connected to the City of Harlingen water system on Shafer and Whalen Road. Should we run into a situation where we need more water, all we need to do is … give them a call.”
The City of Harlingen would then open up the waterline to feed water into San Benito, according to Jalomo.
In a recent statement by Cruz-Hogan, the firm called continued use of the antiquated water plant, “very risky.”
Members of the San Benito City Commission, meanwhile, have deferred all comments to City Attorney Ricardo Morado citing pending litigation. Morado recently issued a statement reiterating that “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 the lawsuit, which was filed in the 444th District Court, the City is seeking damages and has requested a trial jury. Allegations made in the suit include: negligence, negligent misrepresentation, fraud, breach of warranty, breach of contract and violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act.