Long-awaited grant funding has finally come through to finance the construction of a sorely-needed sewage treatment system in Mosca.
Alamosa County officials recently received approval of a grant request from the state’s Department of Local Affairs, or DOLA, for $634,500, which will cover a sizeable chunk of the roughly $1.2 million price tag to replace the aging septic systems in the little town.
The balance of the project’s cost will come from a grant and loan package from the United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA.
The grants were won through a spirited and determined effort largely spearheaded by Alamosa County Deputy Land Use Administrator Rachel Baird and Code Enforcement Officer Jinger Tilden.
DOLA grants require the community requesting the money to match awards with funds from other sources, some of which must be loans to ensure that agencies have some “skin in the game.” The USDA package totals $810,000, of which $160,000 is in the form of a 40-year , 2-percent interest loan that will be paid back by users of the Mosca system.
The awards signal the beginning of the end of the lengthy saga of sewage problems in the town. The 55 users of Mosca’s current system mostly residences utilize 10 clustered septic tanks installed in the early 1980s, which must be regularly pumped out. Two of the tanks are critically damaged and require bi-weekly pumping. The tanks’ leach fields are so saturated that they are essentially non-functional , and the fields are only 50 feet from wellheads, which is less than the 100-foot minimum distance now required by code. The new treatment plant will be a modern system called a sequencing batch reactor, which uses oxygen and bacteria to digest waste.
Construction on the new plant is likely to begin in spring, and officials anticipate it will be on-line before the snow falls next year.
It will cost a little more than $24,000 a year to operate , including the salary for one maintenance person, as well as money set aside in an emergency fund. The annual cost is an improvement over the current system, which the county subsidizes at a cost of more than $30,000 a year. Payments by the system’s users often added up to only $7,000 a year.
The new system will be fully self-supported by its users. Households using the current system pay $25 a month. The fee to use the new system will be higher, but a final monthly figure hasn’t been arrived at, though it will be limited to a proportion of the town’s median income.
The system is designed to be low-maintenance , long lasting, and to allow for expansion and greater capacity. The shortest lifespan of any system component is said to be 75 years. Alamosa County officials have been seeking a solution to the problem since the mid-1990 s, but three previous attempts to secure funding from the state were rebuffed.
Meanwhile, problems in the town got steadily worse. Sewer lines to houses back up regularly. Cracked tanks leak sewage to the surface, causing a foul odor to hang over the town at times.
“They’re just ticking time bombs for a health crisis,” Baird said.
The Mosca sewage issue has been a “noose around the neck” of the county for a long time, said Alamosa County Administrator Gigi Dennis.
“This is not like Greeley and the stockyards,” Dennis said. “This is not the smell of money.”
Dennis commended the efforts of Baird and Tilden. “These two ladies have been quite tenacious,” Dennis said.
Eliminating the sewage problem leaves Mosca poised for growth, Baird said.
“It’s a well-positioned town,” Baird said. “It’s the closest town to the Great Sand Dunes. The employees might just live there if there weren’t consistent odor problems.”
Dennis agreed that the new system sets Mosca up for comfortable future development .
“If they get more businesses or homeowners who want to tap into it, they’ve got a safe system they can access,” Dennis said. Tilden said that many Mosca residents felt left out of the process that left them with the clustered tanks over 30 years ago, and that she and Baird strove to ensure thorough community input in the current effort. She stressed that the county will not leave Mosca residents holding the bag with the new system.
“The county’s going to help the community,” Tilden said. “We’re not giving up on them.”
Tilden said winning the award was thrilling.
“I started crying,” Tilden said. “Rachel screamed. It was so gratifying. They’ve been trying to figure this out since 1996, and it seems we’ve finally got it all squared away.”