COLUMBIA — The Henderson Branch sewer project, long a source of debate in the Columbia City Council, finally passed through after four years of waiting.
The project, which was favored in a 5-2 vote*, will extend a sewer line into the Henderson Branch Watershed and annex an area with large employers including MidwayUSA and the Midway Truck and Travel Plaza.
The construction was approved as part of a $32 million sewer bond issue in 2013. However, upon inspection of the development, the cost increased substantially to $4.3 million, over twice the original estimated $2 million cost.
HDR Inc., the company charged with designing the prospective extension, offered two other versions of the extension that would cost less right away, but would add on millions, adjusted for inflation, within the next 60 years.
Ultimately, however, the approved version was a gravity sewer system without pump stations at a cost of $4.3 million.
The project will also shut down at least two sewer treatment plants that pump directly into Henderson Branch, which will improve water quality in the surrounding area, according to the city.
Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala was one of the project’s most vocal critics on the council and one of two dissenting votes. He has derided what he sees as a lack of private investment into the project. Ian Thomas also opposed the measure.*
After Skala raised his concerns, Larry Potterfield, the owner of MidwayUSA, gave the city a 47-acre plot of land with a house on it worth $1 million. Potterfield denied a connection between his donation and the sewer project, but Skala called it undeniable, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Some members of the council, like Mayor Brian Treece, were concerned with moving city services outside of the city proper.
“I don’t think we should extend sewer services outside of our city limits without annexation in place,” Treece said.
Potterfield had previously threatened to move MidwayUSA into another city if the sewer extension were not approved. MidwayUSA’s current purification standards will not meet Missouri Department of Natural Resources standards starting next year.
The project would bring in estimated tax revenue of around $480,000 a year, meaning, at current cost estimates, it would pay itself off in around nine years.
Henderson Branch was not the only sewer project discussed. Ongoing sewer rehabilitation projects in County House Branch and Flat Branch basins and a $1.8 million sewer improvement project on Bingham and Ridgeley roads, were also discussed and approved unanimously.
Supervising editors are Scott Swafford and Sky Chadde.