Durango: City voters approve bond to remodel sewer plant


From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

“It truly is the right decision,” said Mayor Dean Brookie.

The remodel is necessary to ensure the plant can continue to meet water-quality regulations, as Durango continues to grow.

At the beginning of 2016, the city can now hire a company to design the sewer plant’s remodel, which will take about a year. Construction of the $58 million project will take about 18 months, said Mary Beth Miles, assistant to the city manager. The project needs to be finished to meet the Feb. 28, 2018, deadline when the state will review the plant’s permit.

The other $10 million in debt, approved by voters, will be used for sewer-related projects, not necessarily at the plant.

Without voter approval to finance the plant, the city would have had to look at emergency rate increases and cash financing the project, city councilors said.

“(The vote) averted a significant potential additional increase in sewer rates that would have been required to make interim improvements to the plant,” Brookie said…

The opposition group that pushed for a “no” vote hopes the council will revisit the alternative locations, including Cundiff Park, a site near Sawmill Road Site or combine with the South Durango Sanitation District, said Jon Broholm, who helped organize the opposition.

However, the group has not come to a consensus on which site would be best, he said.

The city council has already spent about $100,000 on engineering studies to research moving the plant and found insurmountable technical, environmental and financial challenges, Brookie said.

In addition, the few acres of park land that could be gained by moving the plant would cost more than all the open space purchased by the city over 20 years.

“What could go there that’s worth costing the taxpayers $20 million?” Brookie asked…

Improvements to the plant are underway to make sure it does not violate water-quality standards, said Steve Salka, utilities director.

Construction on a basin at the park that separates sludge from water was finished last week for less than the estimated $500,000, he said.

He also needs to build new aeration basins for about $5 million to meet the state’s standards for ammonia, a chemical that is toxic to fish.

If the construction was not completed by 2018, the city could potentially violate its permit every day, he said.

Voters to decide Orchard Mesa Sanitation District’s future


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Greg Ruland):

Residents who live within the boundaries of the Orchard Mesa Sanitation District will vote Nov. 3 on a plan to shut down the 39-year-old district and transfer all of its sewer lines, pipes, fittings, taps, valves and controls to the city of Grand Junction as of Dec. 31…

In the unlikely event voters fail to approve the plan, the district will continue to operate as it has since 1976, according to a contract negotiated between the city and the district in 2004.

The 2004 contract resolved a longstanding conflict over the use of fees the district paid the city to process a portion of its sewage, district officials said.

“The board decided it was the best deal we would could get for the ratepayers,” said Deborah Davis-Heidel, district manager since 1982.

Approval of the dissolution plan required by the contract will save district residents about $12 a year on their sewer bill, Davis-Heidel said.

It could also result in immediate improvements. Cash reserves and proceeds from any property sold by the city within two years of the transfer must be spent “exclusively” on capital improvements for district infrastructure, according to the plan.

For example, the sanitation district’s headquarters at 240 
27¼ Road — a 1,500-square-foot office building on slightly more than a half-acre — is expected to be sold in July, she said.

The plan also requires the district to continue billing ratepayers until October. It must transfer all of its billing records to the city by July. The three months between July and October will give the city the time it needs to write new software that syncs the district’s billing records with the city’s, Davis-Heidel said. After October, the city will take over billing.

Voter approval also means two longtime employees, Davis-Heidel and billing secretary Debra Kuhn, will lose their jobs and several independent contractors will lose a reliable, paying client. Attorney Larry Beckner, engineer Steve LaBonde, line cleaner Thomas Gund, construction contractor Mike Kelleher, and auditor Jeff Wendland will lose the district’s business as result of the transfer.

The district’s board of directors approved the dissolution plan in April before City Council approved it in July. In November, voters get their chance to approve or not, Davis-Heidel said.

Board members and staff of the district are prohibited from campaigning for or against the ballot issue, Referred Measure A, she said.

Davis-Heidel expects Referred Measure A to pass. At age 62, she is updating her resume for the first time in 37 years. She’s hoping to sign on with a sanitation district in a mountain town somewhere along the Continental Divide. At least one head hunter has already expressed interest, she said.

She called the district “my first child” and detailed how over nearly four decades it built and then updated and improved sewer lines for hundreds of homes in several Orchard Mesa neighborhoods.

The district spent about 
$1 million in the past five years to upgrade all of its lines prior to the handoff and will have retired all of its debts — including the original bond issue that built the system — before the end of the year, she said.

“We’re leaving the system in better shape than we found it,” she said, crediting the district board with wise stewardship.

Septic disposal site in Carr draws opposition

Post Office in Carr, Colorado via Wikimedia

From The Greeley Tribune (Catherine Sweeney):

A proposed septic storage site has caused a big uproar in a tiny Weld County community just south of the Wyoming border.

Sullivan Septic & Excavating, based in Mead, is trying to store sewage from Weld, Boulder and Larimer counties in tanks and on fields in Carr, an unincorporated community of only a few hundred people.

Residents have banded together to write petitions, submit letters and emails and turn out for permit meetings.

Their most prominent fear is the sewage will harm their water quality, both in the nearby streams and surrounding groundwater wells.

“If it destroys our wells … we can’t do anything,” said Mary Fenwick, one of the residents opposing the project.

They also fear air quality and odor problems, tank quality control and traffic issues.

Cynthia Sullivan, who owns the 21-year-old company with her husband, Kevin, said they pitched the project in Carr because they own 240 acres there.

They also already have three 20,000-gallon tanks on site and had to file for a permit with the planning department to start filling them, according to planning commission documents. They also have to file for a permit with the Weld County Health Department to spread the sewage over a field.

They haven’t done so yet, said Director of General Services Trevor Jiricek.

He helps the health department oversee regulations like this.

Applying waste to farmland is somewhat common in Weld County. There are two types of sewage that can be applied: septage and biosolids. Septage (what the Sullivans are trying to store) comes from septic tanks. It’s screened, which means it has plastics and other materials that aren’t biodegradable removed. Biosolids come from waste water treatment facilities. They’re screened, too, but they’re also treated afterward in various ways, which can include chlorination or aeration. Both kinds of waste can be spread over fields.

This practice isn’t only for storage.

“Land applying septage and biosolids is for its beneficial value,” Jiricek said. “It’s like fertilizer.”

In a given year, the health department grants from 180-200 biosolid application permits and maybe a handful of septage permits, he said. This isn’t a year-round process.

“There’s not 200 active sites at a time in our county ever,” he said.

Applying both biosolids and septage is usually a one-and-done deal, not something that happens continuously.

The county commissioners’ vote in a little less than two weeks will ultimately decide whether they can use the tanks. Because the case is ongoing, the commissioners declined to comment on it.

The planning commission, which acts as an adviser to the county commissioners, approved the project 7-2 in September. One of the “no” voters, Gene Stille, said he is familiar with the area and has concerns about water quality effects, according to planning commission documents.

From the beginning, residents have opposed the project.

“All we had was like two days before the meetings to get this organized,” Fenwick said.

Before the meeting, the planning commission received 35 letters and emails against the project. More than a dozen residents attended the meeting, and seven spoke against it.

During the meeting, commissioners added conditions to the permit request, such as required leak detection, and talked with engineers about how to mitigate potential damage.

“They never answered a single question (from residents),” Fenwick said. “They didn’t even ask our opinion, if that was going to satisfy us.”

The residents learned about the project from a notice on a lightly used back road. Fenwick said she thinks they should have put the notice in the post office, where more Carr residents would have seen it.

That’s not what the law calls for, said County Attorney Bruce Barker. It calls for a notice to the adjacent property owners, in the paper and on the property where the project is slated to go.

“They were thinking there should have been notice to — to my impression — everyone in Carr,” Barker said.

The septic storage would be the next link in a chain of industrial permit approvals in Carr, which residents have lamented.

“We moved here about six years ago, and there was nothing around here,” Fenwick said.

She said the only disturbance her family faced was the occasional train. In the past few years, gravel excavators and oil and gas sites have come.

Residents have various complaints about those, but the old developments aren’t their concern right now.

“This latest deal is the one that’s got us all upset,” she said.

The other sites can be loud and generate dust, but those grievances pale in comparison to worries they have about the danger posed to their water supply, she said.

Although she and the other residents plan to continue fighting the project with fervor, she said she doesn’t believe county officials will take their side because of all the projects approved in the past.

“We all have a big investment in our homes and trying to make our community better, and we just keep getting slapped in the face,” she said.

Children’s World Water Day activities at Littleton-Englewood treatment plant


From the Centennial Citizen (Tom Munds):

Excited laughter and conversations among young voices created a different atmosphere at the Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant as more than 500 students from Englewood, Littleton and Denver made a field trip there for World Water Day activities.

“We have expanded the event this year and have more students attending it,” said Brenda Varner, plant employee and event coordinator. “We have gotten help in expanding the event from a number of agencies that are providing volunteers and displays. Each school’s student group is scheduled to visit every station. The stations provide the opportunity to check out displays, listen to presentations and do hands-on activities. I am sure one of the more popular hand-on activities will be at the booth where each student can create a special T-shirt.”

She said the school groups arrived at different times Sept. 23. Each group then followed a schedule from station to station.

Sixth-graders from Littleton Preparatory Charter School took part in the event. At one of the tour stations, Lily Stinton and other Littleton Prep students were divided into small groups and ran a number of tests on water from the South Platte River.

“I am learning a lot of things I didn’t know about water,” Stinton said. “I am learning about what has to be done to water so it is safe for us to drink. I am glad I came today.”[…]

Fellow student Charles Childers said it was fun testing river water.

“The water looks OK when you have it in the flask,” he said. “Then with the tests and the displays you learn about all the stuff that is in the river and in the river water. I didn’t know much about the river and the water in it so it is cool to learn about those things.”

Durango: City needs to pump $4 million into water and sewer infrastructure


From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

While it is not likely all the projects will make the city’s 2016 budget, Utilities Director Steve Salka on Tuesday made a strong case for many of the maintenance projects to the Durango City Council.

The intakes on both the Florida and the Animas rivers, a foundation piece of the system need to be upgraded. Some of the intakes on the Florida are almost 100 years old.

On the Animas River the city needs to install improvements to ensure enough water flows to the intake.

This intake is located near the Durango Whitewater Park, and the park has exacerbated a problem with the way the water flows through the channel. Right now, not enough water is flowing over the intake, Salka said.

The construction fix for the problem is estimated to cost about $250,000, and the Durango Parks and Recreation Department may contribute $100,000 to the project, he said.

This will help make sure the department is ready to rely more heavily on the Animas River during maintenance on Lemon Reservoir, which stores Florida River water. Work will be ongoing at the reservoir from August of 2016 through 2017, he said.

This likely won’t be the only construction in the Animas next year because the Utilities Department is also planning to replace four of the pipelines that cross beneath the river. These pipes are about 50 years old.

Many of the other projects Salka has planned focus on stainability at water-treatment plant and in other parts of the system.

Some of these projects include better insulation and variable-frequency drive pumps to reduce their demand for electricity.

He would also like to install larger compressors that would help eliminate the need for them to turn on and off constantly; this would address noise complaints from the Hillcrest neighborhood.

Eventually, Salka plans to install a solar garden that would fund the entire plant. But before the solar panels can be installed the La Plata Electric Association must install new equipment, and this project is not currently slated to happen in 2016…

The department will continue replacing water meters again the year by installing 300 new ones.

City crews have replaced 600 meters over the last two years, and it’s had a positive effect on the system.

“My revenue starts going up; we get more water accountability,” Salka said.

In dealing with the sewage system, Salka proposed $1.8 million in upgrades that will needed no matter what decision is made on the wastewater-treatment plant.

Councilors are debating whether to move the plant or renovate it at its current location in Santa Rita Park.

Pueblo asks for more time to meet water quality standards

Wastewater Treatment Process
Wastewater Treatment Process

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The city of Pueblo laid out its case for more time to study which methods of reducing contaminants, especially selenium, in wastewater to state and county officials Friday.

“The city’s approach is not just a study, but an adaptive management program,” said Gabe Racz, the city’s attorney for water quality issues.

Pueblo plans to ask the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in December for an extension of temporary modification for discharges from the sewage treatment plant east of Pueblo. The city wants three years to meet sulfate standards and 10 years for selenium levels.

There are complicated, interrelated processes that need to be implemented in order to meet new federal standards for selenium, ammonia and nutrients, said Gene Michael, wastewater director for Pueblo.

Durango: Councilors hope to get $68 million wastewater funding issue on fall ballot

Wastewater Treatment Process
Wastewater Treatment Process

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

Durango city councilors plan to finalize ballot language Tuesday that will ask voters in November to approve spending $68 million on moving the sewer plant, but councilors haven’t decided where to put it, and voters likely will not know, either.

The deadline for completing the ballot question is a week away. If councilors agree Tuesday on what to ask, it will keep the timetable for construction intact while giving councilors time to consider options for moving the plant out of Santa Rita Park.

“We’re not in a hurry to pick a site,” Mayor Dean Brookie said.

If councilors don’t approve the question by Friday, it can’t be placed on the November ballot, and the project would be delayed by at least a year. Brookie is hopeful councilors will have a location identified before the debt question goes to voters.

City officials say they have looked at every possible parcel where a new sewer plant could go without finding a viable alternative to its current location in Santa Rita Park, and they are on a tight timeline to build a new plant that will meet state regulations.

But critics say there must be other options that haven’t been pursued.

Councilors considered a resolution earlier this month that would have formalized their intent to remodel and slightly expand the existing plant. But after hearing extensive public testimony, they decided to wait to pick a site to see if other options could be found. The same resolution could be back on Tuesday’s agenda.

Without knowing where the sewer plant will be located, it may be difficult to tell voters how much it will cost.

The Santa Rita Park plant remodel would require an estimated $58 million, and the city plans to ask for an additional $10 million in contingency money that could be used for the plant or other infrastructure projects.

If the city finds the ideal site for a sewer plant after the ballot language is approved, the city would have to go back to the voters if the project were to cost more than the $68 million, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.