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Sewer bonds speak to growth

Saturday, April 5, 2008 | 7:32 p.m. CDT; updated 5:57 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sewers, roads and water lines have always been concrete indicators of growth. The two sewer bond issues on Tuesday’s ballot — one proposed by the city and the other by the Boone County Regional Sewer District — are no exception.

Officials from both the city and sewer district say that the main purpose of the bond issues is not to add a significant amount of capacity to either system.

Instead, the $21 million in sewer district bond money would pay almost entirely to update facilities so that they would meet new state Department of Natural Resources fecal coliform limits. E. coli, a well-known example of the fecal coliform group, is a bacteria harmful to humans.

New water regulations are also a big driver of the $77 million city bond issue. About $33 million of the bond money would pay for two new treatment trains, or a series of tanks, that are needed both to remove ammonia and ensure plant reliability. Ammonia is a chemical toxic to fish and wildlife.

The rest of the improvements — $43.9 million — include updating aging equipment that dates to the plant’s opening in 1983; updating the grit handling system and sludge removal that would increase wastewater plant efficiency and save costs in the long term; adding an odor control system; and making improvements to the collection system, including $3 million for sewer extensions for future employment centers.

Aside from the ammonia treatment, the proposed improvements are not state-mandated for stream quality, but Steve Hunt, the city’s environmental services manager, said the updates are just as necessary. They would not add a significant amount of capacity, but rather make sure the plant can keep running as is, he said.

The $3 million piece of the city bond issue for future employment centers is reserved for a project in the Bear Creek watershed, Hunt said.

“It’s so we can attract some industry, some job centers,” Hunt said. “We want to be able to have capacity available.”

Hunt added that the city serves as a support role for growth, while private groups like Regional Economic Development Inc. seek to encourage businesses to come to Columbia and Boone County.

If the bond issue passes, and the City Council later approves the specific proposal, the money would be used to switch a certain amount of sewer flows from the Bear Creek watershed sewer system to the Hinkson Creek watershed system.

This is because, Hunt said, a lot of developments in the Bear Creek watershed — for example, the Vanderveen subdivision, Arbor Point subdivision, developments north of the Boone County Fairgrounds, the industrial park on Rangeline Road, industry on Prathersville Road and even part of the Route B corridor — are filling up sewerage.

Hunt said that relief sewers would be needed for this area down the line anyway.

“(Bear Creek is) getting developed to the point where we need to be looking at those areas and keeping on eye on it,” Hunt said. The growth is not unexpected, he added.

Hunt said he sees the economic development portion of the bond issue as a way for the city to get ahead of the growth curve.

“It’s recognizing what’s going on and more getting out in front of the trend,” Hunt said.

“The section of sewer that I’m worried about was probably installed in the ’50s or ’60s,” Hunt added, referring to the Bear Creek system.

Now, it needs to be replaced. But Hunt said the pipe replacement is being driven by the past 50 years of growth, not the past five years.

For the sewer district, the issue of growth is a bit more complex. The district has about 6,100 customers, spread out across Boone County, while the city has about 40,000.

Add to that: Many of the new developments are on the fringes of Columbia, which means they are sometimes annexed to receive city sewers and sometimes served by the sewer district. One example is the South Route K corridor, where developer Jose Lindner has amassed about 1,000 acres of land, as reported by the Missourian in 2007.

Under the bond issue, several facilities in this corridor will be updated: Arrowhead Lake Estates wastewater treatment plant and University Estates lagoon will be closed and connected to the Columbia system; the South Route K Wastewater treatment plant will receive ultraviolet light disinfection and the lagoon will be replaced with a second treatment facility; and the Spring Park lagoon closed and connected to the city system.

In the district’s 2007 capital improvements plan — from which much of the planning for the bond issue was done — there are either three options for new facilities or the option to connect to the Columbia system. These steps are planned for after 2013, after the funding from this bond issue would run out.

The three options are to build a wastewater treatment plant either near West High Point Lane, which would cost about $7 million; near Woodie Proctor Road, which would cost about $9 million; or near the confluence of the Missouri River, which would cost about $10 million.

Why not include these plans in Tuesday’s bond issue?

“I’d basically say, it’s because of the price tag,” said Tom Ratermann, the sewer district’s manager. “We’re doing what we think is absolutely necessary to stay in compliance with law,” he said, referring to water quality regulations. “To look at options that are so much more expensive — and are almost 20-year plans — just doesn’t make sense.”


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Comments

Kate Schuman April 6, 2008 | 5:19 p.m.

Dear Reader:

If you're interested in this story (seeing as it's about sewers, it's not likely) or how it was written, I wrote two blogs about writing it and the editing process.

http://advancednewspaperreporting.blogsp...

http://advancednewspaperreporting.blogsp...

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 6, 2008 | 5:53 p.m.

While I agree with the need for the county sewer district's need to meet federal regulations, including $2 million in the bond proposal to close a facility (Sunrise Estates) that is not under the federal mandate, sticks in my craw a bit.

(Report Comment)
Kate Schuman April 6, 2008 | 6:59 p.m.

Dear John Schultz:

Thanks for being the first to comment! I appreciate you pointing out things they we may have missed.

This is how I understand the Sunrises Estates project: they are closing the lagoons and connecting to the city in order to meet the DNR requirements. When the flows to go the city, the city takes care of disinfection. For the purposes of brevity, we didn't make this clear in the graphic. Perhaps that was a mistake. I hope this helps!

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 7, 2008 | 11:22 a.m.

No, the error is not with your article. The Sunrise Estates lagoon is not affected by the two-mile mandate according to the sewer district and its material which I received. It was added into this bond proposal without a real case being made for its inclusion. At roughly 10% of the bond proposal, it may not be a large figure, but I still expect my sewer district to justify why the bond should pay for this project. This particular project should either be funded by general revenue from the district, or a better case should have been made for its addition. I am curious what the rates for an average customer would have been without this $2 million addition.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 7, 2008 | 1:39 p.m.

Here is the response I received from the district:

Like the other projects on the CIP, use of general revenues would result in higher user rate increases. Having the authority to borrow money to pay for major capital projects allows the District to spread the costs over twenty years and reduce the impact on user fees. Also, a long term financing strategy means that the cost of the improvements will be shared by current and future users. Once again this minimizes rate increases

(Report Comment)
Kate Schuman April 7, 2008 | 2:44 p.m.

Hmmm. I wish I had more time to look into this further. But we vote in less than 24 hours. At the very least, thank you for pointing it out for other readers and contacting the sewer district yourself.

(Report Comment)

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