The Gladewater City Council took the first steps Thursday in ending a more than 20-year agreement to contract out for water and sewer services.

The council unanimously voted to authorize City Manager Sean Pate to actively search for and hire employees with the intention to take over water and sewer services from Veolia Water at a future date. After employees are hired, the council then plans to come back and give Veolia a 30-day notice of the contract's end.

Though the contract is not set to expire until September of 2013, it is likely the city will take back the services prior to that date. Veolia must assist the city in the transition, per terms of the current contract. Veolia officials said the dissolution would be mutual.

"I would like it to end sooner rather than later," said Councilman Scott Owens, who made the motion to allow Pate to seek personnel.

Bill Roach, Veolia's area manager, made a presentation to the council in which he noted that a new water treatment plant has allowed Veolia to do things it couldn't with the old plant, such a develop a proper line flushing system. Roach said the line flushing has caused some water discoloration.

Roach, who was seeking to work with the city through the end of the contract or extend the contract, said Veolia provides "technical expertise," has asset management programs, and is developing a staffing plan for Gladewater, The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality recently cited that people were working at the Gladewater plant without the proper certifications. Roach said the plant is now fully staffed, though with two temporary laborers.

However, city council members took issue with Veolia's staffing noting that Gladewater does not have a full-time project manager at the plant. A Veolia representative monitors the Gladewater site from a computer, by camera, and is on-site for a minimum of 32 hours per month.

Owens said that was an issue when on Aug. 10 Gladewater was on the verge of "running out of water."

Owens said the clear well was below the level at which an alarm should have sounded; however, the alarm system developed by Veolia didn't go off. Gladewater was left with about 40,000 gallons of water in the 1 million gallon clear well.

If there had been a line break as there was the previous weekend on Gay Avenue or if there had been a fire, Owens said there was a concern there would not have been enough water.

"I deem it a crisis situation and I am appalled," Owens said, regarding how Veolia handled the situation.

Owens attributed much of the crisis aversion to KSA Engineers who spotted the problem, and said it took nearly all day to get the well back up. He also noted that Veolia's person in charge for Gladewater never made an appearance on site but rather monitored the issue by computer.

In a public hearing on the Veolia contract, Diana Formby said the water smelled "foul" and Todd Orendorff noted recurring issues with the water's color.

"Not a week goes by that I don't field the same complaints," said Violet Melton, the secretary of Warren City which buys water from Gladewater annually. "My stock response is not that Veolia is going to fix it. My stock response is that Gladewater will fix it."

Roach urged the council to consider seeing the agreement through; however, Councilman Delbert Burlison said, "I haven't heard anything here that tells me how you're going to change things."

Roach said he wanted the city and Veolia to enter a true partnership, working together to move the city forward.

Councilman J.D. Shipp said that when Gladewater renewed its contract with Veolia three years ago, the same sentiments existed then. He said someone from Veolia should have been working with Gladewater during the past three years to strengthen the relationship.

"This is a situation where we're no different today than we were in 2009," Shipp said.

The council's vote was unanimous to seek employees to provide Gladewater's own water and sewer services.

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