Sat, June 15

Letter: Wastewater facility just like selling ice to an Eskimo


Like a salesman trying to sell a state-of-the-art solar-driven igloo ice cube maker to an Eskimo for the price of 10 whales, the City of Cottonwood and a tiny handful of supporters continue their relentless crusade to drain $8.5 million from the reserve account of Cottonwood’s 4,500 sewer customers to pay for an unneeded wastewater facility in Riverfront Park. The Eskimo, of course, wisely turned down the offer, realizing that a gorgeous solar driven ice cube maker, while great to look at and maybe something to boast about, was neither needed nor worth the price of sacrificing ten whales that could feed his village. If only Cottonwood’s government and supporters of the unneeded wastewater plant possessed the wisdom of the Eskimo.

Why spending $8.5 million on an unneeded wastewater plant is a really bad idea was recently vividly illustrated by one of one of the wastewater plant supporters in a letter to the editor in this paper. (Verde Independent, Aug. 30, 2011, “City plans for Riverfront Park are right on.”) Let’s examine the supporter’s stated reasons for spending $8.5 million.

First, he stated “we are spending around $300,000 a year to pay the electrical bill to pump raw sewage 600 feet up hill and around three miles to the current sewage treatment facility.” The implication is that the Riverfront plant may save the City something on its electrical bill. What the writer fails to tell the readers is that the City processes about one million gallons of sewerage daily. If the Riverfront Plant is built, it will remove about 300,000 gallons of water a day from the sewage. The City will continue pumping about 700,000 gallons of untreated wastewater directly back to the main sewer plant. Furthermore, all of the solid waste left over once the water from the Riverfront plant is removed will also be pumped directly back to the main sewer plant. Whether the Riverfront plant will save $50, $500, or $5,000 in reduced electrical costs remains pure speculation.

Second, he says that, “The pumping costs will only increase as Cottonwood grows.” Unfortunately, the City appears to be shrinking, not growing. The City estimated its 2009 population at 12,180. However, by 2010 the population had dropped to 11,265. In fact, over the last five years, census data indicates the City has grown by about 340 persons.

Third, he says that by spending $8.5 million there “could even be one or two putting greens for the golfers “ He’s right. But who in the world wants to spend $8.5 million for two putting greens?

Fourth, he says that, “We have a wonderful stand of cottonwoods along the river that are in need of water.” Assuming he is correct, do we really want to spend $8.5 million to water trees on the banks of a flowing river?

Fifth, he says we need to spend $8.5 million because “we like green grass.” He’s right. We like green grass. But the park already has green grass. And is watered daily by the City exercising its ancient ditch water rights. I guess, however, for $8.5 million it might be a little greener.

Sixth, he says, “there is a new pipe system planned to carry [waste] water to more areas of the city.” He’s right. The City plans an extensive purple pipeline to use reclaimed water that will run from the main sewer plant on Mingus to Garrison Park. Merely expanding that line to Riverfront Park may cost a few hundred thousand dollars but save around $8 million. If anything, the newly announced purple pipe irrigation plan soundly supports not spending $8.5 million on an unnecessary Riverfront wastewater plant to potentially “better” water the park.

Seventh, he says Riverfront Park would “be a nice area to have a family picnic with the cool river breezes and green grass around your table.” Yes, it would be “nice.” But at a cost to the 4,500 sewer users of $8.5 million? And, if you drive down to look at the park, you’ll see that most of it is already green.

Eighth, he says the plant would be “a state of the art facility by which all solid matter will be removed.” True, just as the solar ice cube maker for the Eskimo’s igloo was state of the art, so is the design of this plant. The point is, however, building it at this time is a very poor use of wastewater reserves.

Ninth, he failed to inform the readers that in its May 1, 2011, Annual Sewer Report that the City said it intended to send a “sewer rate recommendation ... to the City Council shortly after the 1st of the fiscal year. This is part of the recommendation from Council to make the rate increases part of the budget process.” The problem for the City is it looks silly to ask for a sewer rate increase when the sewer users’ account contains over $8 million in reserves. The Riverfront plant is one way to drain that account and give City staff, who appear envious if not outright jealous of the low sewer user fees, manufactured justification for raising them.

Finally, the writer suggests the plant is a “win-win” proposition. Is it a “win-win” proposition when you spend $8.5 million for a plant that: (1) Is not needed because your main wastewater plant continues to operate at or below two-thirds capacity and can accommodate homes and businesses for the next decade? (2) The plant, if built, won’t create a single full-time job?

(3) The plant, if built, will drain badly needed reserves so that increased costs associated with future maintenance and repair of the wastewater system will be placed directly on the backs of 4,500 sewer users by raising their monthly wastewater fees?

I don’t think so.

Bob Oliphant