City approves $11 million dollar loan for permitting, design and land acquisition for desalination plant

Corpus Christi City Council members approved taking an $11.4 million dollar loan from the Texas Water Development Board to help the city finish the permitting process, purchase land for the plant , and create some more design work on the project. 

Corpus Christi mayor Joe McComb made it clear during Tuesday’s council meeting that the purpose of the ultra low interest loan from the Texas Water Development Board is not to build the plant itself, but rather nudge the plant construction closer to reality. 

After much debate, council members voted 6 to 3 in favor of the plan. 

Opponents mostly argued what seemed to be substandard points of order by claiming that by voting to approve the measure without further public hearings would be a misrepresentation to the public. However, proponents argued back saying that there has been substantial time for public input and comment. Mayor McComb even went as far to point out that public meetings had been held where there were few, if any citizens in attendance. 

“My parents are in their 80s and they will have to pay for this,’ said at-large councilwoman and mayoral candidate Paulette Guajardo. “By voting for this you are not doing what is right by your constituents. You are not doing right by the people that put you here.” 

Guajardo, who seemed to insinuate that McComb was being bought off by industry and she was “for the people,” appeared to be postured more for a campaign stump than an honest debate about an issue. As the item went to motions, Mayor McComb picked up on the direction the Guajardo speech and retorted for Guajardo to “stop campaigning.” 

The real point of the matter was if the city should take the loan or not—nothing more and nothing less. Financial expert Donald Dunlap said that from what he sees the plan is solid business. 

“Just by examining the basic financial situation of the city of Corpus Christi it seems that the city has more than enough cash-on-hand to pay for the project,” Dunlap told The Southside Light News on Tuesday after the vote. “What I see them trying to do here is go after some really cheap money that was offered in order to continue to build up the city’s already good credit rating. That makes fiscal sense.” 

Dunlap points out how somebody somewhere did something positive along the way to ensure that the city has plenty of money in the bank. But he also points out how somebody that is not looking at the fiscal side of the note could make the objection that if the city has the money, why go into debt? 

“A city does not need to spend money just because they have it,” Dunlap said. “If you can get the loan cheap then by all means do it. Save what you have on hand. That is solid business and solid government in today’s world.” 

Jeffery Reynolds, a researcher who has worked on various desalination projects says that he feels the bigger concern is practicality. 

“Desalination technology is becoming more efficient,” Reynolds says. “All around the world it is becoming commonplace.” 

Reynolds says that the real question is do you need it or not? 

“The real meat of the matter boils down to future needs and demands,” Reynolds says. “When we look at places that are growing and that have a future based on growth, you understand that you need more water. That is simple. People need it, industry needs it, and there isn’t any real way around it if you intend on growing and you do not have a stable, drought resistant water supply at hand.” 

Reynolds, who consulted on the Carlsbad Desalination Plant project says that the benefits are there, despite the risk. 

“This thing is going to use energy and it is going to use plenty of it,” Reynolds says. “But where else are you going to get that much water?” 

Reynolds says that he foresees the biggest user by far for the Corpus Christi plant would be industry. But after conducting some basic research, he feels that the amount of revenue earned off of the sale of the water would benefit the city in the long run. 

“Here is the deal, you’re going to seek water to industry one way or another,” he says. “You might as well make the best deal you can and walk away with something instead of trying to prove a point. Unless your aim is to stunt future growth. Nobody wants to openly admit to that.” 

In an interview with the Southside Light News last week councilman Greg Smith noted how the vote today was nothing more than moving the process ahead without causing an adverse impact to current ratepayers. 

But that point does not sit well with the objectors, mainly Guajardo, on council who say that they do not have enough information and that there has been little public input. 

Councilman Michael Hunter claims that he had likely been to more meetings than the entire council when it comes to the topic desalination, pointing to the fact that McComb was driving home that there had been adequate public comment and input since at least the 1980s. 

In the end, the motion to approve the loan passed and must be voted on once more before it is all said and done. The bigger fact is that there will be no desalination plant built within the next 5-8 years, at least. But the move today is a big step in that direction.

Matt Pierce Briscoe and Brian Castro contributed to this article.

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