Letter: City’s sewer plans defy logic

Editor:

This paper’s Aug. 11 on-line editorial mentioned that the City of Cottonwood is suggesting that the proposed $10 million plus Riverfront satellite wastewater facility has become “a necessity rather than a luxury.” I respectfully disagree. Here is why.

Starting at least six years ago, the City made assurances to me and others about the existing wastewater/sewer plant and its ability to handle stress that stand in stark contrast to the City’s suggestion the proposed Riverfront plant is a necessity. In addition to those assurances, recent City policy decisions regarding water conservation and pricing have resulted in a reduced flow of wastewater into the system. Furthermore, City data indicates that the number of wastewater users declined from 2007 to 2012. Finally, there is nothing on the horizon suggesting a huge influx of large businesses and large housing developments will erupt and cause undue stress on the existing system.

Recall that the proposed Riverfront multi-million dollar facility is not a sewer plant. It merely removes some water from the sewer lines and sprinkles it on Riverfront park

Six years or so ago, a group of concerned citizens began looking into how Cottonwood’s sewer/wastewater system and sewer/wastewater plant could handle the added stress of what everyone thought was an imminent huge influx into Cottonwood of new businesses and large housing developments.

I was a member of that group. At the time, business was booming, homebuilding fantastic, and home sales off the chart. Lowes was in a preliminary discussion with Cottonwood about building a large store on highway 260 across from Walmart. A Coppergate Business Center was under consideration on the east side of Cottonwood. Harkins theatres and even Trader Joes were thought to be showing interest in the area. Large housing developments were being planned and rural grassland was being rezoned into the city. The economic outlook was robust. “How,” we asked, “could Cottonwood’s existing sewer plant and sewer system withstand the stress of all of the expected new home building and new businesses?”

We began our quest for an answer by touring the Mingus sewer plant; some of us toured it on more than one occasion. Sewer plant personnel assured us it was in good operating condition and capable of withstanding the stress of hundreds of new homes and dozens of new businesses being planned for Cottonwood. No one remotely suggested that an appendage to the system, such as the proposed Riverfront wastewater facility, was necessary to reduce stress on the system the widely anticipated building boom would generate.

We studied the sewer/wastewater plant’s history. We learned that voters had approved it for construction in 1987 with a capacity of 1 million gallons a day. It was expanded in the 1990s to treat 1.5 million gallons of wastewater per day and to allow discharge of reclaimed water into Del Monte Wash. In 2002, the engineering firm, Santec Consulting, received a “Grand Award” for engineering excellence because of its work to upgrade the plant’s performance.

We also approached the late Brian Mickelsen, the City Manager at the time, for reassurance that the anticipated building explosion in Cottonwood would not over stress the plant and the sewer system. He assured us and the City Council that our concerns were not warranted. At one Council session, he explained that, “There would [be] no adverse effects to wastewater treatment capabilities since capacity was available.” He then explained further that, “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 proposed Mesquite Hills addition of more than 400 new homes, “does not trigger a recalculation of when an expansion to the treatment plant needs to be on line.”

We raised the question of the ability of the Mingus sewer/wastewater plant to withstand the stress of an anticipated new large housing development at a March 2007 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. City staff informed the Commission 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.”

Then, the great depression hit Cottonwood. The planned housing developments collapsed. Businesses such as Lowes backed out of discussions to locate here. Coppergate never got started. Worse, several large employers closed their doors. Cottonwood’s sewer system began permanently losing customers in manufacturing, home building, and other businesses as the recession deepened. Poverty, unemployment, and underemployment increased dramatically.

Any concern about over-stressing Cottonwood’s sewer/wastewater system because of an increased demand vanished.

Then, because of City policy decisions beginning around 2009 regarding water conservation and increased water user fees, sewer effluent streaming to the sewer/wastewater plant began a decline. A new plumbing code requiring dual plumbing for grey water discharge was mandated in any new construction in the City, a decision that in the future may have an impact on further reducing wastewater flow.

In June, 2010, the Mingus sewer/wastewater plant was inspected by the State of Arizona (ADEQ). The City Manager reported that the plant “passed with flying colors. It was a very clean report. As clean as you can get related to wastewater.” ADEQ also confirmed that the plant was operating at less than two-thirds capacity; less that 1 million gallons of wastewater a day.

All of the assurances made years ago and events that have transpired since that time should persuade any careful observer that the proposed Riverfront plant is a luxury, not a necessity. If that isn’t enough, from 2007 to 2012 the number of Cottonwood sewer customers has fallen from 5,407 to 5,391. Future City estimates are that the customer base will increase by only a little over 300 users in the next several years.

The proposed Riverfront park satellite plant is not a necessity. A retirement, small business community such as Cottonwood in the present economy simply cannot afford this unnecessary facility. It is terribly unfair to foist the cost of such a luxury on the citizens of Cottonwood.

Bob Oliphant

Cottonwood

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