No Dove of Peace Over Georgetown
Charges continue to fly over the defective Dove Springs Wastewater plant.
By Jordan Smith, Fri., Oct. 4, 2002
Just when it appeared the dispute over Georgetown's Dove Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant might have waned, more sewage oozes: A engineer's report has confirmed structural problems at the plant, and the former city manager claims the former mayor is trying to smear his name, partly over the sewage plant controversy.
Two weeks ago, the city officially released the results of its third commissioned engineering report on the condition of the infamous plant -- and the new findings largely echo those of the two earlier studies ("It's Still Leaking Sewage," Sept. 20). Completed in 1993 for $2.2 million, the plant began showing cracks soon after it came on line. The cracks, plant engineer Charles Steger of Steger & Bizzell told the Chronicle earlier this year, are normal for any concrete structure. But two engineering reports (in 1998 and 1999) by Joe Luke of the Austin firm Jose I. Guerra concluded the plant was not built with enough structural steel.
The latest report, by UT engineering professor Richard Furlong, concludes that the design of the plant was "in compliance with accepted structural engineering practice," but the plant was not built with enough structural steel. "Consequently," concludes Furlong, "resistance to flexure along the base of the wall is only 25 to 30% of that which is needed ..." While the tank is not in immediate danger of complete failure, says the report, it will need constant monitoring to ensure safe operation. "I feel that the city should go ahead as soon as they can and build another facility" to reduce the stress on the Dove Springs plant, Furlong said. City Utilities Director Jim Briggs says the City Council will review the report and decide on a course of action.
Whatever the fate of the sewage plant, the political aftershocks continue. The dispute had turned ugly in early 2000 when City Manager Bob Hart, in his yearly job performance evaluation, charged Mayor MaryEllen Kersch with retaliation over his concern about the plant because, Hart wrote, Charles Steger was Kersch's friend and political supporter. (Steger's son Perry also served as Kersch's campaign treasurer.) Hart also wrote that Kersch said publicly "Her goal is to fire me and that she would ruin me both personally and professionally." Two weeks later, Hart resigned, and later became Huntsville city manager. Kersch has consistently denied Hart's charges and recently reiterated to the Chronicle that as mayor she recused herself from all matters concerning Dove Springs.
Kersch has since left office (the outcome of a February recall election), but the dispute persists. Interviewed by phone from Huntsville, Hart contends that Kersch has continued to make good on her alleged threats to try and ruin him by spreading lies about him in Huntsville. Hart said that while he feels somewhat vindicated by the ultimate results of the Dove Springs reports, the news has been "very little" consolation. "Before we ever took that [1998 Luke report] to the council we were very careful that we had accurate information," he said. "So I knew all along we were right." But the new corroboration has been overshadowed, Hart said, by persistent rumors about his character and professionalism -- charges that have made their way from Georgetown to Huntsville.
Kersch "said at the time that if I brought the information out to the media that she would ruin me," Hart said. "Since I have been in Huntsville she has been talking to people here and doing everything in her power to make that possible. My life here has been miserable here because of it." According to Hart, Kersch has told Huntsville's mayor and council (among others) that Hart misappropriated money in Georgetown and that he is under the shadow of an impending criminal indictment in Williamson County. "It's the very same recycled lies she's been telling for the last five years," Hart said. "I thought when I left there I wouldn't have to deal with it any more. But she's never let up, and has not let up in the last two years."
Kersch vehemently denies spreading any rumors about Hart. The only contact she's had with Huntsville, she said, has been when reporters have called her to ask questions. "If Bob Hart has grief in Huntsville, it's of his own making," she said, "and I think it's well deserved." In fact, she retorts, Hart and his friends -- notably several Georgetown developers -- did everything they could to smear her reputation. "I'm always denying his allegations," Kersch said.
Huntsville Mayor Bill Green said he's heard the rumors about Hart, but denies knowing their original source. "We could never say these things came from the mayor [Kersch]," he said. "But they surfaced that Bob was a bad guy and that he'd left Georgetown under a terrible cloud and that it was only a matter of time until he was indicted. Those [rumors] were really spread quite widely throughout the community." Green said the city investigated the allegations and determined they were baseless.
Georgetown developer and Hart's close friend Bruce Barton said Kersch approached him a couple months ago as she was leaving a community meeting, and "told me herself that she'd talked to people down there [Huntsville]," he said. "[She said] 'Yeah, I've been talking to the people down there. The man with the newspaper, I've talked to them a lot about you.' I was shocked, I still am, that she would do that -- she just couldn't help herself," Barton said.
Kersch denies spreading any rumors. She insists the entire Dove Springs controversy was simply a means for Georgetown's "good old boys" to force her out of office, and that now that she's no longer in office, she doesn't have to sit idly while accusations fly. Hart, Kersch said, "better be careful because I'm no longer a public official. So he'd better watch his mouth."
Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.