PAWSD awarded $9.3 million in stimulus funds

Late last week, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) received word that it will receive more than $9.3 million to complete sorely-needed improvements to an aging wastewater system.

The news came from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Water Quality Control Commission on Friday, after an approximate seven-month funding effort by PAWSD staff and Briliam Engineering employees.

The system in question includes the old and obsolete Highlands Wastewater Treatment Facility on North Pagosa Boulevard, just south of the Highlands and Hatcher subdivisions.

Built in the 1970s as an unlined aerated lagoon system, the facility contains an influent lift station, two aerated lagoons, a polishing pond, a blower building and a chlorine contact chamber. It was originally designed to serve just the Highlands portion of the district.

In all, PAWSD will receive $9,322,353 in stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The amount represents 30 percent of the $31 million statewide total available for sewer-related projects from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

The money will be used to decommission and eliminate the Highlands facility, and construct 7.5 miles of sewer line from that portion of the district to the Vista Wastewater Treatment Plant on the PAWSD campus at 100 Lyn Ave.

Due to its age and original design, the Highlands facility is constantly non-compliant by today’s state and federal effluent (post-treatment outflow) standards. In fact, according to the PAWSD Web site, Highlands violates hydraulic, effluent BOD5, percent removal, effluent fecal coliform and E. Coli. Too, PAWSD faces compliance with new CDPHE ammonia limitations by March 13, 2013, which would have required either a new Highlands treatment plant or the pipeline to Vista.

In 2006, PAWSD imposed a moratorium on new connections to the Highlands facility, except for platted lots in the Highlands and Hatcher subdivisions, and portions of Martinez Mountain Estates. By securing this funding, however, the moratorium may be lifted, as proposed improvements are completed two or three years earlier than previously anticipated.

In a Wednesday phone interview, PAWSD Manager Carrie Weiss said the Highlands project must break ground by Sept. 30. Depending on the number of crews the chosen contractor utilizes, she thinks the project will take about two years, with completion sometime during the fall of 2011, or sooner. Weiss said preliminary engineering and design work is complete, and construction bidding should go out sometime in July. PAWSD hopes to award a construction contract in August.

Apparently, the project will create 15 to 20 new jobs, and wages must adhere to the Davis-Bacon Act wage schedule. Therefore, worker pay will be significantly higher than average area wages for similar work.

“We’re really hoping to keep this local,” Weiss said, “but there will be some limitations due to state and federal requirements. We’ve already talked with one local (construction) company and they’re aware of the project. We’ll put it out to bid locally and statewide.

“This is an area we’ve not tread before,” Weiss continued, “and the state and federal governments will dictate the requirements we have to meet. There are always strings attached, but this is a great thing — it’s huge, way huge.”

In a recent press release, PAWSD Special Projects Manager Sheila Berger said, “Since November we have been working diligently to identify our project need to policy-makers at the state and federal level. Since the formal February announcement of funding was made, we have worked closely with several agencies and consultants to keep our project up front and in priority. Now we must ensure that we continue to meet all future deadlines and state and federal requirements associated with ARRA funding.”

Berger said the deadlines include submissions of a final engineering report and an environmental assessment for the project area; advertising project bids and awarding contracts; and holding a public hearing on the project. She said the public hearing is now scheduled for 7 p.m. June 9, at the PAWSD offices at 100 Lyn Ave.

Berger said specific details of the ARRA award will not be known until late June. Although the district has been authorized an award up to its requested amount of $9.3 million, money will likely be allocated via a complicated funding structure.

Currently, the award includes an estimated $1.3 million in grant funds, $7.46 million in the form of a zero-percent loan and $550,000 as a 1-percent loan. However, Green Project Reserve allocations, for which the district has presented a business case, have not been determined and could potentially change the funding composition in the district’s favor.

Ultimately, Berger said, sewer district residents may see a slight increase in service charges, but will be spared the enormous cost of funding the entire project.

PAWSD Assistant Finance Manager Shellie Tressler added, “Monthly sewer service charges will remain much lower than they otherwise would have been, if conventional funding would have had to be obtained.”

chuck@pagosasun.com