San Antonio Water System’s board of trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to support the use of eminent domain to build in the parking lot of a near Westside restaurant a lift station that would pump sewage into a nearby sewer main.

The restaurant’s owners, who opposed the move, say they’re not ready to “say uncle just yet.”

After tabling the issue at its October board meeting, SAWS staff recommended the board approve a resolution supporting the city’s use of eminent domain to force the sale of 285 square feet in front of Piedras Negras de Noche to build a lift station.

All seven SAWS trustees voted for approval, despite the dissent of several speakers during the board meeting’s public comment period, including the restaurant’s owner John Rodriguez Sr., his son, one of the engineers who helped the Rodriguez family look at alternative options, and Mary Alice Cisneros, a former District 1 councilwoman and wife of former mayor and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros.

Construction of the lift station must now be approved by the San Antonio City Council before it can begin.

SAWS officials said last month that they need a lift station in the area to fulfill a federal order to upgrade its undersized and leaky sewage system. That includes abandoning a deteriorating sewage main underneath Interstate 35 and directing that sewage instead through a pipe along the frontage road next to Piedras Negras De Noche.

Rodriguez Sr. and his family worry their restaurant, which has survived both the coronavirus pandemic and a severe fire in the course of its 58 years of operation, will not survive a six-month construction period followed by potential sewage smells and possible spills right outside their eatery.

“We’re not ready to say uncle just yet,” Rodriguez’s son Johnny Rodriguez Jr. said told the San Antonio Report following the board meeting Tuesday. “The power of prayer, the power of community — that’s what we’re hoping to find.”

Rodriguez said he and his family and their supports plan to speak at upcoming City Council meetings. He added the family partnered with two local engineers to provide SAWS with alternative options.

But those alternatives were “unworkable due to a combination of engineering challenges,” SAWS Vice President of Legal and General Counsel Nancy Belinsky told the board.

SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente said the utility “went above and beyond trying to get” the family’s input, but said staff felt this was ultimately the best option.

“We have to get rid of the sewage,” he said. “Nobody wants a wastewater treatment plant in their backyard, nobody wants a loud freeway right outside their door, but unfortunately those are circumstances.”

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.