If the City of Moab and a Spanish Valley improvement district want to get started in earnest on a new wastewater treatment plant next year, they still need to move beyond two main points of contention between them.
The city and the Spanish Valley Water and Sewer Improvement District are in the midst of negotiating an agreement to build an $11 million regional treatment plant that will replace the city’s existing facility near the Matheson Wetlands.
Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency (GWSSA) General Manager Mark Sovine, who also serves as the improvement district’s manager until he retires next month, said his side agrees about the need for a more efficient and long-lived facility.
“We have every bit the same vested interest that Moab City does to operate that plant efficiently and make it last as long as we can,” he said during the board’s meeting on Thursday, Aug. 18. “So we have absolutely no beef with that.”
They do, however, have a beef with the proposed terms of the district’s loan for the project, as well as the exact language regarding the pretreatment of wastewater that the district would send to the facility for further treatment.
Sovine said the district wants to ensure that the final agreement won’t harm future growth in the valley, beyond the city limits. Among other things, he said it hopes to prevent any changes down the road to the city’s municipal code that would prohibit something that the two sides currently agree on.
“We need to be comfortable that whatever pretreatment program is in place doesn’t affect our ability to grow, or to build,” Sovine said.
Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson said it’s not the city’s intent to restrict development in Spanish Valley. However, the city is concerned that unless protections are in place, it won’t be able to manage the activities of potential customers beyond its jurisdiction, such as a purely hypothetical dairy or a semiconductor processor, for example.
“If we were our own plant and we only had people from within the city that this council could write ordinances about, I would probably say, ‘Let’s stick with that,’” Davidson said during the city council’s meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 23. “But we’re not, and when we take on that regional approach, we don’t have necessarily any control over a customer that comes in to those other users.”
In addition, city officials want to ensure that the costs associated with any development that adds significantly to the treatment plant’s loads would not be passed on to all of the plant’s users.
“It’s really important in our mind that we have a way to manage that system effectively,” Davidson said.
Furthermore, the city wants to retain the ability to determine whether or not it has the capacity to serve a particular customer.
“If it’s a user that needs to send us 250,000 gallons a day right now, we’re going to say, ‘We can’t handle that loading,’” Davidson said.
If approved, the document would replace a 40-year agreement for the current facility that both sides signed in 1982. Under that agreement, Davidson said, the city agreed to serve 600 connections from the district. But over the years, she said, that number has grown to 2,413 connections.
Based on those figures, Moab City Council member Kyle Bailey said he doesn’t understand how the district can suggest that the city would hamper development.
“You’ve been talking about restricting growth – I mean, accusing the city of trying to impede growth,” he said during the district board’s Aug. 18 meeting. “You’ve been allowed 600 and some-odd connections, and you’re up over 1,800, so I don’t get the argument there.”
The district’s board members were hoping that they’d moved beyond disagreements centering around that history. Board members Dale Weiss and Mike Holyoak said that during previous discussions about the agreement, Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison has said that the “past was past.”
“The mayor’s been saying that all along,” Holyoak said. “Well, it’s changing now … Now everybody’s bringing it back.”
District challenges city’s loan terms, wants EPA pretreatment standards
Spanish Valley Water and Sewer Improvement District Board chair Gary Wilson said the city wants to pay its loan back in 20 years. At the same time, though, the city wants the district to pay its loan back in 10 – or perhaps 15 – years, he said.
“Well, we can’t afford that, unless we raise rates substantially, so that’s why there’s a disagreement here,” he said.
Wilson said his district will continue to work on the remaining concerns involving the loan issues.
“But it’s probably not going to change because we can’t afford to do anything any more than the city can afford to do it,” he said. “It’s a huge amount of money, and we’re trying to keep the rates at a reasonable level by spreading this $11 million plant over a 20-something-year payback…”
As far as his position on wastewater pretreatment goes, Wilson said he would like to adopt U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Utah Department of Environmental Quality standards, as opposed to the city’s “more stringent” proposal.
“We would think that that would be very adequate and very fair to adopt as a compromise standard,” Wilson said. “And the EPA always goes – in my opinion – a little bit overboard, to protect the interests of the public … We’re hoping that that’s the standard that we can adopt, rather than something that’s more stringent.”
GWSSA Board member Rex Tanner said he supports that position.
As an equal partner in the regional treatment plant, he said, there’s no reason why the district would want to harm the facility.
“In fact, any kind of activity on this end of it would just end up costing our ratepayers more money to fix it, so we’re going to be good policemen, just like the city would be a good policeman on this,” Tanner said. “I don’t think we’re asking for anything unreasonable. What we’re asking for is, let’s use the state standards, and if it’s good enough for the State of Utah … and the EPA from a federal level, that should be adequate for the situation.”
But Sakrison said during a subsequent meeting that the city is not asking the district to do anything that the city wouldn’t do itself.
“The same standard that applies to us will apply to you, and vice versa,” Sakrison said during the city council’s Aug. 23 meeting.
Tanner noted that if the district doesn’t sign on to the agreement, the state won’t disburse funding for the new project.
But that’s not an outcome that either side wants to see.
“We have no choice but to get through it,” Sovine said. “This treatment plant is very important to everybody – especially Moab, but us too, right now.”
City, district, still trying to resolve key differences
We have no choice but to get through it … This treatment plant is very important to everybody – especially Moab, but us too, right now.