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Pipeline project gets green light

When you gotta go, you gotta go.

On Tuesday night, the Pagosa Springs Sanitation and General Improvement District board gave the green light to a proposed pipeline that will pump the town’s sewage to a recently constructed $9.3 million facility operated by the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District in the Vista area, essentially giving the “go” to the next phase of the project — engineering and design — while rejecting construction of a wastewater treatment plant on the south end of town that would have been largely funded by USDA money.

Earlier this year, the board approved $50,000 to fund a feasibility study investigating the proposal’s viability. On Tuesday night, engineers from Bartlett and West presented results from that study, along with three options for pipeline routes.

The proposal approved by the board Tuesday night involves installing about seven miles of new pipe from the southside of Pagosa Springs to feed sewage to PAWSD’s Vista Wastewater Treatment Plant. That infrastructure project would also require the installation of two lift stations in order to pump sewage from the town basin uphill to the PAWSD plant to the west. The PAWSD plant currently runs at less than 25 percent capacity, and the inclusion of town wastewater would boost the plant’s capacity to just over 50 percent. Furthermore, that plant has been engineered to be scalable and, PAWSD engineers have reported, could ultimately handle wastewater from a population nine times larger than what currently resides within town and district boundaries.

Until late last year (when the cooperative sewage treatment plan was proposed by PAWSD general manager Ed Winton), the town was looking at spending over $7.5 million to build its own treatment facility. The agreement with PAWSD would slash an estimated $2 million from those costs.

Over a year ago, the town received notice from the USDA that it would receive funds for the construction of a wastewater treatment facility. The money included $3,145,000 in loans (at 2-percent interest) and $787,000 in grants.

Along with other funds secured three years ago (a $2 million loan from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority and a $1.25 million grant from the Department of Local Affairs), the town had just over $7 million to construct the plant.

Unfortunately, the town’s wastewater treatment plant project had been beset with multiple problems over the past few years. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) mandated construction of a new plant in 2006, after the current wastewater treatment system reached capacity and was subject to several outflow violations. Furthermore, state and federal regulators had determined in 2006 that lagoon systems for wastewater treatment (what the town is currently using) were obsolete and needed to be phased out.

Originally set for construction in October 2008, the project ran into funding and permitting problems during the planning stages. The project was further hobbled with construction on the plant delayed indefinitely and with contract bids for construction of the facility far exceeding the amount the town had secured for the project.

Bids for construction of the wastewater treatment plant submitted in mid-April 2009, ranged from $5.9 million to $8.8 million. Even low bids for the project came in around $1.15 million over budget.

USDA funds, although obligating the town to nearly four decades of debt and town sewer customers to fees almost 130 percent above Colorado average rates, would have allowed the PSSGID to construct a plant meeting CDPHE standards for wastewater treatment.

Not only does the agreement with PAWSD eliminate CDPHE concerns, but, in pursuing the pipeline as an alternative, CWRPD and DOLA funding dedicated towards a wastewater treatment solution would be considered fungible as part of a finance package to pay for pipeline construction and engineering.

Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem told the board on Tuesday that a decision needed to be reached immediately in order to meet a CWRPD deadline for considering its finance package with a lower interest rate.

PAWSD Project Manager Gregg Mayo added that the rest of the project’s funding would come from his district’s move to install, update and improve infrastructure, with the town repaying that at a three-quarter percent interest rate.

Speaking to the benefits of the so-called “Meadows” option (largely, running pipe south of town then heading up South and North Pagosa boulevards before cutting west to the Vista plant), Mark Weiler (who spearheaded the committee pursuing the proposal) told the board, “We have, currently, commitments for all of the right of way ... so there are no right of way issues to contend with.

“It is a big coup,” Weiler added.

Board member Kathie Lattin asked if the “Meadows” route required any additional time for construction.

Bartlett and West engineer Art Dilione told Lattin that the three routes were, “virtually identical” in total length, but could not say what an exact time frame might look like.

Mitchem added that, as the other two routes would require easements that had not been secured, attaining those rights of way could entail one to two years in construction delays.

Without much further discussion, the board seemed satisfied it had finally found a solution to a wastewater treatment dilemma that had been a headache for over six years.

Board member Darrell Cotton made a motion to move the project to the final design stage, with board member Stan Holt providing a second.

With a unanimous vote, the board approved moving the proposal forward.

If CWRPD financing is approved in June (as is anticipated), construction on the project could begin as early as the end of this year or early 2013.

jim@pagosasun.com

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