There was a hearing today for a case that sounds a lot like a plot to a movie.
A poor Latino community that is in the throws of an identity crisis trying to feel its way in the world and torn between being known as a city or rural community, takes a powerful, all-Anglo, utility district to court.
Sounds like a movie, but it isn't.
The City of Socorro and Horizon are locked in a battle over, of all things, waste water. Not for who gets it, but essentially who gets stuck with it.
According to the arguments made in court, here's how things transpired. In 2006 the Horizon Municipal Utility District (MUD), an elected board, planned for a $2.2 million expansion of their waste water project. In 2009 MUD applied for and obtained a permit to do so from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The project was to pipe waste water from Horizon through some county areas and the city of Socorro in to an area in Socorro and eventually in to the Rio Grande.
That's pretty much what the two sides agree upon. There is quite a bit of dispute from that point forward.
The city of Socorro says that Horizon MUD wants to pump their waste water in to an open ditch, technically called the Mesa Spur Drain, that runs through Socorro. They say its often used by children for swimming, farmers for irrigation, and many animals drink from the ditch. One member of city council in Socorro says that the ditch eventually empties in to the Rio Bosque, an environmentally sensitive area.
Socorro also alleges that Horizon MUD didn't follow rules and give the city of Socorro notification that they intended on piping their waste water in to an open ditch in Socorro, despite notification to El Paso County, the Lower Valley Water District, and Texas Tech, nor notify Socorro of their filing for a permit with the TCEQ. Socorro says because they weren't properly notified, they weren't given the opportunity to contest the permit at the state.
Earlier this year a member of the Socorro City Council and the Police Chief noticed a new cell phone tower out in an agricultural part of the city. The two went to investigate the new cell phone tower and went along a dirt road that is adjacent to a ditch.
On their way out, the found a couple of manhole covers in the middle of the desert. Upon further investigation, the ran across a few more manhole covers and an area with partially-constructed rock wall and there were cement improvements to the ditch. The concrete was meant to reinforce the opening where the Horizon MUD water would empty in to Socorro.
This construction was done within the city limits of Socorro, within the line of sight of City Hall in Socorro (about a half mile).
The proceeding held today was to hear motions for Summary Judgments from both sides in the case. They also wanted to argue three Motions to Strike. They essentially wanted to dump a few witnesses from the opposing side. Horizon wanted to strike the Socorro City Manager and another individual and the Socorro wanted to dump the affidavit of Jesus “Chuy” Reyes.
During the hearing, of which we are still waiting on a ruling, an interesting allegation arose. The attorney for Horizon MUD alleged, and I'm paraphrasing here, that Reyes' statement says that we was told by the Mayor of the City of Socorro, Willie Gandara, Sr. that four members of city council were conspiring in a scheme to get some money from Horizon.
The ditch is not lined or sealed and only has the concrete improvement at the opening of the pipe that would empty in to the ditch. The rest of it is just earth and the attorney representing Socorro said that the area has a high water table. Their argument that a high water table along with waste water being dumped in to an unimproved ditch is a bad thing for the residents of Socorro.
If the project comes online, it would empty about 3 million gallons of waste water in to the area per day. I interview Yuri Calderon, the attorney representing the City of Socorro in the case if the Spur Drain was capable of handling that amount of volume and he said, “We don't know. No one knows. It's never even been studied.”
Stay tuned, this one is going to be a pretty big fight...