Utilities director sounds Odessa water plant alarm

City of Odessa Utilities Director Kevin Niles once again sent up some red flags about the Bob Derrington Plant during Tuesday’s city council meeting, warning that if no repairs or upgrades are done soon the city could see “catastrophic failures.”

Back in December, a representative from Performance Services Inc. spoke to the council about the plant and repeatedly used words like corrosion, non-functioning, malfunctioning, inoperable, uncontrollable, inefficient, degraded, unsafe, unrepairable and crumbling.

Niles reminded the council that after those discussions, the council earmarked $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act money for the plant and City Manager John Beckmeyer found another $1 million.

At this moment, staff is working to get quotes for replacing security fencing, installing safety hand railings, enhancing multiple cranes and rebuilding the grit removal system, which hasn’t worked for 15 years, he said.

Niles said the cost of the improvements will likely cost $3.3 million and he anticipates the work will begin soon.

However, the plant continues to degrade, he said.

“We have several issues with our treatment process that include down clarifiers which allows for septic sludge to get into the aeration basins. Our aeration basins are rapidly degrading and because we do not have great removal, we have lost quite a bit of capacity,” Niles said.

The maintenance team spends half of its time on the aeration basins, he said.

“The team works diligently on making repairs but it’s becoming harder and harder to maintain daily operations,” Niles said.

It’s entirely possible the city could receive more violations from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality because the plant can’t produce good micro organisms to help digest the waste and the plant continues to have high ammonia and concentrates, Niles said.

He and operations manager Melissa Looney asked the council to work with city management to find some funding.

Looney quit her position with the city last May, but resumed her old duties in February.

In her resignation letter, she cited, “Stress. Not enough employees, leaving more work for me. Pay for my employees. Under appreciated.”

On Wednesday morning, she said via text she came back because she loves the plant and her employees.

“I think we both learned some stuff in my absence. I really just need this plant fixed,” she said.

When Councilmember Chris Haney asked Niles Tuesday night if he was saying they need to shut down the plant, Niles said, no, but the plant can’t continue to operate with technology from the ’70s.

Niles told Mayor Javier Joven he doesn’t believe the plant would last the seven years it would take to design and open a new one. However, there are technologies that could be put into place in the existing plant, he said.

It would be at least a couple of years before the city could place a bond on the ballot, if that was the route the council chose to go, Joven said. There would have to be a lengthy education process, he said.

Niles said there are some companies that could come in to educate the council on other funding options.

A new plant would cost half a billion dollars, Niles said.

Councilmember Steve Thompson recommended the city do what it needs to do right now to make the repairs while simultaneously making plans for a new plant.

The city is growing and it’s time to pay the fiddler, he said.

“I think we need to be proactive here and maybe do a couple of things at the same time, not just putting a Bandaid on it and then walking away from it and leave it for another council to fix. That’s what’s been happening in the past,” Thompson said.

Niles agreed.

“I see it in three different phases. The first phase is the ARPA funds, getting those ARPA funds utilized, and getting the safety measures taken care of immediately. The second phase is redoing the current plant with as much water and technologies that we possibly can to basically keep it viable for the next 15 to 20 years. And then the final phase would be a new treatment plant,” Niles said.

The council gave Niles permission to go forward with that plan.

Also on Tuesday, the council discussed a memorandum of understanding for the development and financing of the city’s new 140,000 square foot multi-use sport complex and surrounding fields.

The cost of the park, which will be located near Faudree and Yukon on 100 acres donated by the Bell family, is expected to be about $80 million.

According to materials provided to the council, the non-profit Sports Foundation of Texas will ground lease the property from the city for the development and financing of the park for a period of 99 years at a cost of $1 per year. At the same time, the Centurion Foundation, a Georgia nonprofit, will sublease the property at $1 per year and then lease it back to the city, with the base rent being decided prior to closing.

The materials indicate the park may be financed by the issuance of tax-exempt and taxable lease rental revenue bonds.

The park will be developed by Sports Med Properties and operated by Radd Sports. Its construction is expected to take 18 months.

In addition, the council agreed to provide additional raises for Odessa Fire Rescue crews following a salary study conducted by the department.

According to materials provided to the council, in order to offer a competitive salary and solve compression issues, OFR needs an extra $458,545 this year and will need more than $1 million annually in the coming years.

City Manager John Beckmeyer indicated there is $7.6 million left in federal COVID relief funds and they’ll be used for the adjustments.

In other action:

  • The council gave Parks and Recreation Director Max Reyes permission to continue exploring the possibility of partnering with the National Fitness Campaign to build an outdoor fitness court. The council agreed such a project would help improve the quality of life in Odessa.
  • Hired the Navarro Group for $50,000 to plan Firecracker Fandango, Dia de Los Muertos and the Christmas Parade and Festival.
  • Entered into a $595,000 contract with the YMCA for the daily operations of the city’s aquatic facilities.
  • Passed a resolution that will give $250,000 to Special Olympics Texas.
  • Agreed to install lighting at Salinas Park for $57,628.
  • Discussed renovating the Ratliff Ranch driving range for $981,471. The landing area would be renovated, greens would be elevated and the teeing area would be widened 100 feet and netting would be added on both sides of the driving route. The project would take less than three months.
  • Discussed banning e-cigarettes within 50 feet of city building entrances.
  • Discussed awarding a $12.2 million contract to Reece Albert Inc. for reconstructing 1.2 miles of Crane Avenue. The contract would also include replacing 5,500 linear feet of water lines and 20 manhole covers.