Letter: The dots just don’t seem to connect on city’s sewer plans

Editor:

There is something odd about the rush by Cottonwood to rid itself of $8.5 million in reserves to build and locate a second wastewater plant at Riverfront Park. This is particularly true when capacity and operation of the current main wastewater facility are carefully examined and compared to the need for this second multi-million dollar facility. The dots just don’t seem to connect. See if you agree.

Capacity of the existing wastewater facility was a major issue at the February 20, 2007 Council session. At that time, the City was hoping to add more than 400 new homes to the wastewater system as a part of the Mesquite Hills project. (Less than a dozen of the 400 homes have been built since 2007). In response to wastewater capacity concerns, former City Manager and now deceased, Mr. Bryan Mickelsen, stated for the record the following: “There would [be] no adverse effects to wastewater treatment capabilities since capacity was available.” He went on to say: “For several years there has been no significant increase in volume of effluent requiring treatment, despite continued growth.” “This project,” he said, referring to the Mesquite Hills addition, “does not trigger a recalculation of when an expansion to the treatment plant needs to be on line.”

Wastewater capacity questions were again raised in regard to Mesquite Hills before the City Planning and Zoning Commission during its March, 2007 meeting. According to City records, the Commissioners turned to City staff present at the meeting and asked about the capacity of the existing wastewater treatment plant. City staff replied that the plant was operating at “50 percent capacity.” The Commission concluded that because “the sewage plant is only at 50 percent capacity … we can afford expansion.”

The capacity question was raised two years later at the May 26, 2009 Council meeting. Mr. Dan Lueder was asked “how close to capacity the current wastewater treatment plant was and what the maximum capacity was?” In response, he stated that the plant “currently operated at 70 percent.” There was no explanation given about how the usage of the plant had jumped by 20 percent in just two years. Mr. Lueder added: “We were supposed to start planning for additional capacity when the level of use reached 80 percent.”

A year later, capacity was again raised at the May 11, 2010 Council session. At that session, the second phase of the feasibility study for a proposed multi-million dollar Riverfront wastewater plant was presented. Mr. Lueder stated that the “main treatment plant which itself was obsolete and already was being utilized at 75 percent capacity.” Amazing! In only three years Cottonwood’s main wastewater plant had surged from 50 percent to 75 percent usage. Furthermore, the plant was described as “obsolete.”

Several of us were skeptical about the City’s report of the huge percentage increase in the wastewater plant usage. Recall we were experiencing a deep recession; several large Cottonwood businesses had closed their doors and many homes were vacant because of foreclosure. It just didn’t seem to make sense that capacity should jump so much in so short a time. However, we had little to support our skepticism. Then, out of the blue, came data from the State of Arizona.

That data was first made known when the City Manager reported to the Council on July 6, 2010. He said that a month earlier, there had been an official ADEQ state inspection of the main wastewater plant. According to him, the main plant had “passed with the flying colors. It was a very clean report. As clean as you can get related to wastewater.” Not bad for a plant that during the presentation for a new multi-million dollar wastewater facility at Riverfront park was described by the City as “obsolete” less than two months earlier.

A careful review of the official ADEQ report, obtained by outgoing Councilmember Darold Smith, shed additional light on the wastewater usage issue. The report, dated June 22, 2010, states that the main wastewater plant is “permitted to treat and discharge up to 1.5 million gallons” of wastewater per day.

Contrary to Mr. Lueder’s 75 percent earlier estimate, the report states that the current wastewater flows average less than 1.0 million gallons per day. That leaves at least 500,000 gallons of use still available to Cottonwood citizens. The ADEQ report failed to provide support for either the 70 percent or 75 percent of capacity statements made by the City.

The City, no doubt, needed to come up with some kind of explanation for the obvious discrepancies between the ADEQ report and its statements to the Council. The explanation came at the January 4, 2011 Council session. At that meeting, Mr. Lueder said, and I quote from the minutes of the meeting: “When he made the statement at 70 percent we were over a million gallons a day. Our conservation has worked and the flows had gone down.” Well, how about that? I have tried to connect the capacity and obsolescence dots from the official ADEQ report and Brian Mickelson’s statements with the proposed Riverfront facility and Mr. Lueder’s estimates. I can’t. Maybe you can do a better job than I can.

Bob Oliphant

Cotttonwood

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