October 20, 2018 at 5:00 am | By MARY MALONE Staff writer | Bonner County Daily Bee
SANDPOINT — With its aging infrastructure, the city has replaced or rehabilitated nearly a quarter of its wastewater treatment system over the past 10 years.
“So the city has done a lot, but there is still a lot to do,” said Steve James with J-U-B Engineering, during Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
Council members voted on Wednesday to approve a wastewater facility plan that will be submitted to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality for review. The city was awarded a $65,000 wastewater planning grant from the IDEQ more than a year ago, and submitting the draft plan is the final step in the process, James said.
Key factors driving the project include new discharge permits, future permits, high peak flows and aging infrastructure.
On Aug. 1, council members voted to leave the plant at its current site on the bank of the Pend Oreille River, adjacent to War Memorial Field, rather than move it to an alternative site on Baldy Mountain Road.
Back in 2009 the city purchased the 32.2-acre chunk of land on Baldy for $905,000, with the hope that it would someday house a wastewater treatment plant capable of serving all five of the area’s sewer districts. Regionalization, however, was not one of the options council looked at before making a decision on whether the plant would stay at its current site or move to the Baldy site.
Council ultimately decided to bridge improvements, phasing the project out over time, with new technology at the existing site. The option will give the city more time by extending the life of some of the current technology until new technology could be installed. It will also give the city time to reduce inflow and infiltration, which James said is important because treating less flow will keep costs down over the long term. It will also give the city time to pay down its current sewer bond, so as not to “stack debt on top of debt,” he said.
“And finally, a project like this is expensive,” James said. “Anything you can do to line up grant money and funding is important — it takes time to do that … this buys time to get everybody lined up to get the political support to get big funding behind the project.”
The cost of bridging improvements at the existing site was initially estimated at $71-$83 million. According to the agenda report by Public Works Director Amanda Wilson, engineering efforts led to a decrease in the estimate since the last council update. It is now projected to cost $59.6-$74.2 million.
During the first phase of the project, components of the plant that are at the highest risk of failure until bond is paid off in 2022 will be replaced or repaired. The second phase will be construction of a new plant by the end of 2024, and the final phase will include construction of additional capacity to achieve 100 percent biological treatment at peak flows, according to Wilson’s report.
City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said there has been public interest regarding the Baldy site and what will become of it since the council decided not to move the wastewater plant. Stapleton noted during the meeting that is not part of the facility plan, and would instead be discussed at a future council meeting.
She did add, however, that the city is currently in the appraisal process for the Baldy property and is not in conversation with any organizations about disposition of the property.
“I know those rumors have been going around, that there are developers interested … none of those conversations have occurred,” Stapleton said.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.