Drainage issues still a hurdle for potential EMS station

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Sealy city officials still appear hopeful that Austin County will purchase land near the police station and fire department, but discussions about drainage and detention are ongoing.

Austin County commissioners agreed Monday morning – following a second closed session – to authorize County Judge Tim Lapham to negotiate a deal with the city.

The city council discussed at its Jan. 22 meeting drainage on the city-owned property between the fire station on Highway 90 and the police station on Rexville Road. They have offered the land to Austin County at its appraised value of $143,000 or $3 per square foot. While Austin County commissioners have shown interest in placing an emergency medical services facility in the area, they have expressed concerns about drainage. The police department has flooded in the past.

City Manager Lloyd Merrell said he discussed adding a detention pond on the property or – as suggested by Councilman Larry Koy, running a pipeline from the detention pond at Cryan Park to Rexville and dumping it into an underground pipeline at Allen’s Creek.

“What’s flooding the police department is that pond is overflowing and running down into the parking lot,” Merrell said.

Koy added that he wants the EMS station on this particular site, but other options exist to deal with the drainage issue. He added that it will cost between $40,000 and $60,000 to build a detention pond.

Assistant City Manager Warren Escovy explained the reasons behind how the plat – a map that outlines divisions of a tract of land – was designed.

“When you plat something that’s commercial, 0.75 acre feet has to be [designated] for drainage,” Escovy said. “You can do offsite or onsite. I think the deal was when we talked about doing this with the county was that we would help them with their drainage. We’d probably require them to pay just like the Cryans do for Cryan Park … However, I think one of the advantages to selling it to the county was that the county could use that. I think if we take away that pond it could take away their ability to make that a good location for them.”

Offsite detention is an option, but creating the pond on site makes the property more appealing for the county to locate there, Escovy explained.

“When we have drainage available, it makes it a better site,” he said.

If the detention area at Cryan Park is enlarged, the city wouldn’t lose money or have to spend money to build a pond, Koy added.

Councilman John Hinze also weighed in.

“I was under the impression we didn’t want any more ponds,” he said. “That’s the whole reason we re-did our drainage manual, so we wouldn’t be adding more ponds … My impression was that we were going to dig out Allen’s Creek and expand it wider to aid in the drainage for the police department and EMS, and now that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

The reason why a pond is being considered at that location is to help reduce flooding issues at the police department, Escovy said.

“We could look at improving Allen’s Creek and look at that cost differential and see if that’s something you’d rather do,” he said. “That’s definitely an option for you. We felt this would be a low-cost way of helping the police department drain better and maybe allowing the EMS station to drain there, but we can certainly look at alternatives.”

Councilman Chris Noack expressed concern that “no one seems to know” how many acre-feet are in the existing ponds, but if a new pond is built, that can be tracked.

County Judge Tim Lapham acknowledged that drainage is a “big issue” facing the commission as they determine where to locate the facility.

“We’re planning on spending about $1.5 million in your city to build an EMS station, a nice EMS station,” he said. “We’re fighting over detention, over a piece of property that’s not going to be anything else. You’re not going to build a municipal court in between your police station and your fire station. You’re not going to have access in or out. If you do that, you’re asking for a disaster.”

The county was under the assumption that they would be able to use the city’s detention pond, Lapham added.

“If we’ve got to go out and pay for detention, then the city property is no more valuable to us than any other piece of property,” he said. “I have to make the best decision for the public, just like y’all are … We’re doing this for the public, and there’s a limited amount of tax money. We need to get it done.”

Councilwoman Jennifer Sullivan pointed out that county commissioners need to know how the project is going to work and what expenses will be assessed before they make a decision.

“I don’t think we ever had a discussion on who would pay for the pond,” she said.

Councilwoman Dee Anne Lerma said she would “hate to see us dig a hole on a piece of land that we could actually use if we have an alternative that would help with the [police department] and also help the EMS station.”

Escovy emphasized that staff’s recommendation is to build an onsite pond.

The council opted to direct staff to look at cost-effective alternatives for drainage in the area. Noack was opposed.

“I think we just need to get it right,” Mayor Janice Whitehead said.

Austin County Commissioners Court meets Monday at 9 a.m.

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