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Sewer board low on funds
6/8/2007 By: Carole McWilliams
The Bayfield Sanitation District is tapped out.
That’s not referring to sewer taps, which are now available again in Bayfield. It’s the money the district has lined up to build a new treatment plant, versus the potential cost of that plant.
Sewer board members lamented on May 23 that they still don’t have a firm handle on how much that cost is likely to be. It will depend on the plant technology used, and the strength of organic loading the plant is designed to handle.
The board had considered hiring a project manager to oversee the new plant construction, as the town has done for the new town hall, park, and senior center projects.
But town and sewer district manager Justin Clifton advised that a project manager wasn’t included in the sewer plant cost estimates. “If we’re really trying to move forward with all our plans, we can’t add any more. There’s no more money,” he said.
All those plans include around $500,000 in improvements to the existing sewage lagoons to satisfy state officials and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe until the new plant is finished.
The new plant has been estimated at around $6.5 million. The membrane bio-reactor (MBR) technology selected by the sewer board last year was based on recommendations that used lower organic loading than what the Bayfield system now has, engineer Greg Woodward told the board.
“You have higher loading than normal across the board,” Woodward said.
A new plant based on current loading for 20 years would need to be about three times bigger, he said. He said he’s actually designing it based on a 10-year projection for organic loading, with the assumption that ongoing efforts to reduce organic loading will make that projection good for 20 years.
That will require a 20 percent increase in equipment and cost compared to last year’s estimates, he said.
“The whole project is about 20 percent more irrespective of what type of plant it is,” Woodward said. “We want to make sure we can still do the MBR for $6.5 million at the larger sizes.”
The initial quote for equipment for the MBR plant was $1.25 million, he said. The rough estimate to handle higher loading raises that to $1.4 million. It also will take up more space.
The cost estimate needs to include everything like land acquisition and engineering, sewer board member Brad Elder said, “so we don’t have, ‘Oh by the way, there’s another million dollars’” needed.
Clifton said, “The vulnerability is there are a lot of things heading us in the direction of higher prices. We’re absolutely tapped out at $6.5 million.”
Future tap fees will have to go 100 percent for debt service, he said. He is pursuing additional state and federal funding help, but he warned, “It would be incorrect to say things will definitely work out.”
He noted some other plant technologies are $1 million cheaper. But the amount of space needed for the plant is an issue. Additional land will come from Bayfield school District, and they have “drawn a line” at two acres, Clifton said.
“I think everyone would still favor the MBR… We’re making a 30 percent (of total cost) investment in design documents knowing we might have to pull the plug,” Clifton said. It will be hard to get a firm cost estimate without going that far, he said. He warned against spending more to also design an SBR system.
He continued, “$6.5 million is bottom line. You are looking at a very small ending (fund) balance. We can’t bring any more in. I don’t think we can afford any more debt load.”
The board discussed a cheaper technology called a sequencing batch reactor (SBR).
Sewer district attorney Bud Smith said that probably would be around $1 million cheaper.
Clifton said Pagosa Springs is doing a $4 million SBR plant with twice the capacity proposed for Bayfield.
“They don’t have the loading criteria we do,” Woodward said.
Clifton noted that one of the state officials the town and district are dealing with doesn’t like SBR plants.
“We’ve had this discussion before,” sewer board member Todd Demko objected.