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City Council narrows search for desal contractor, object to marketing campaign

Posted at 4:55 PM, Jun 26, 2024

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Seawater desalination was back on the Corpus Christi City Council agenda on Tuesday. The city is one step closer to finding a contractor for the project, but not without some dissent.

City council has approved the short list of contractors that could be selected to build the city’s Inner Harbor Seawater Desalination Plant. They also approved earmarked money for the selected contractor that would be up to $138 million for the initial phase of the project.

One of the finalist contractors is Kiewit. The other two finalists are groups of contractors. One made up of Acciona and MasTec have formed Corpus Christi Desal Partners. The third finalist is a group of CDM Smith and PLW Waterworks formed Corpus Christi Desalination Team. All have experience building desalination plants.

However, three council members wanted to delay the vote for several reasons. One being pending litigation against the city. A second is the city hasn’t gotten the OK on their discharge permit just yet.

“It seems to me the financially wise thing, the financially responsible thing to do would to be to wait until we find out where this contested case, what the outcome of that is,” At-Large Councilman Jim Klein said.

Councilman Gil Hernandez said he felt the city was getting ahead of themselves.

“We don’t have to pre-approve something that we have not seen yet. We have not seen what the ultimate package is and you’re asking us—it would be irresponsible for us as a council or an individual council member, to approve something we have not seen,” District Five Councilman Hernandez said.

City Council had another vote relating to seawater desalination on Tuesday.

In early June KRIS 6 News reported that city staff had been working on approving $1.5 million for a communication campaign for Corpus Christi Water, to educate people on their projects including desalination.

That was met with more skepticism by the council and did not get approval.

Mayor Paulette Guajardo noted the city has more pressing needs.

“I understand getting the message out, that’s extremely important and this contract is about marketing. And, I was specifically told that crisis management was not going to be apart of this,” she said.

It was expressed by some council members that they see the value in dispelling misinformation.

"Councilman (Dan) Suckley and I went to a meeting on the island last week and there were a number of people who came up and said "would you explain to me what's going on with the desal thing? We just don't know." And so, it's because we don't tell people. So, we need to give them that education," At-Large Councilman Mike Pusley said.

However, the price tag is what troubled some of them. MDR Advertising was the agency set to receive the contract and they explained they would take the first three months to do research, before launching their communication campaign.

“If you’re not doing that, people are going to fill it with their own opinions and those opinions are told as facts and sometimes they’re not. So, we’re not going in and supporting one cause or another, but really trying to go in and educate people,” Stephen Rybak said, Principal and Chief Operating Officer of MDR Advertising.

MDR Adverstising was also up for a professional services contract with the city for general communication needs. That was rejected in the same vote.

What happens next, Drew Molly, Chief Operating Officer of Corpus Christi Water said they plan to release the Request for Proposal to the three finalists to build the desalination plant. They are due back in September. the city plans to select one of the three in October and finalize a contract by December. If things stick to schedule, construction could begin early 2026.

TCEQ is set to decide on the city's discharge permit in the fall.

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