THE BUZZ 2: North vs. South

By on July 12, 2016

Airport soars, school gets flushed in separate sewer solicitations.

The Jackson wastewater treatment plant in South Park. (Photo: Franz Camenzind/Eco Flight)

The Jackson wastewater treatment plant in South Park. (Photo: Franz Camenzind/Eco Flight)

North face

JACKSON HOLE, WY – OK, sewer hookups are admittedly hardly the stuff of exciting news pieces. In this case, however, the tale of two sewer lines runs deeper than the trench to accommodate each waste conduit. One north, one south—town leaders made weighty decisions on their acceptance or reluctance to allow an airport and a school to send their sewage to the wastewater treatment plant just south of Melody Ranch near the South Park feedgrounds.

Last week airport officials asked for the town’s permission to send sewage to the wastewater treatment facility. They offered to pay their way to getting connected with the town’s system, constructing a pipeline to existing utilities districts in the Gros Ventre, and then through Spring Gulch on the way to Jackson. The agreement is contingent upon approval from those two utility companies—something being currently worked on.

“I can tell you this is a good project,” town administrator Bob McLaurin said at a recent meeting. “This agreement, we believe, is good and ready to go. We still have to work things out with Spring Creek Utility District and Spring [Gulch] Utility District.”

Jim Stanford made sure with McLaurin that the airport was helping defray the costs of necessary work in town near the “Y.”

“This is work we would need to do eventually anyway, and [$60,000 to $70,000] is their pro-rata share,” McLaurin assured Stanford. “We need to bore under the four-lane and replace the sewer line from Powderhorn to the new post office. Right now those lines are starting to get full without the airport. The airport is around 32 thousand, 30 thousand gallons. So it’s not a huge increase in hydraulic volume but it changes our construction schedule a little bit.”

Councilman Don Frank is fine with the connection as long as the boxes are checked. He asked whether the hookup is in the interest of the public, whether it safeguards the welfare of the community, and wondered about the alternative consequences of treating waste onsite within a national park.

Stanford agreed that the sensitive location of the airport made a case for sending waste to town. “I support the concept. It’s better than injecting potential sewage into the aquifer there,” he said.

Larry Pardee says no chemical product will be introduced into the Jackson plant. Like most airports, the Jackson Hole Airport uses glycol as a de-icing agent for planes on the tarmac. The runoff is captured and handled onsite.

The council unanimously agreed to allow airport officials to tap into Jackson’s wastewater treatment plant. It was a precedent-setting decision that has direct and immediate ramifications.

Southern exposure

The town council has certainly had to wade through their fair share of crap in years past, but placing two sewer connection items on the agenda for a meeting that would run four-and-a-half hours seemed particularly cruel and unusual punishment. After rubber-stamping the airport’s filth flow, things got really messy with the new school proposed for Hog Island.

While both applicants made the same request, their differences were key. The airport is already there, in a national park, with a brand-new but failing, multi-million dollar treatment system. The school hasn’t been built yet…and some want to keep it that way.

After jumping successfully through Frank’s Five Hoops of Fire (will this benefit the community, is the applicant paying for it, etc?) and answering every softball, leading question that appeared almost like a rehearsed infomercial routine, TCSD No. 1 COO Brad Barker had his ship together and halfway to town. Then came a former heavyweight in the political realm who still carries clout: Pete Jorgensen.

Jorgenson has challenged the location of Munger Mountain Elementary as contrary to the 2012 Comp Plan by stretching growth 10 miles south of town in an area zoned rural. The former four-term House rep’s message has found purchase with at least one council member. Stanford and Barker have crossed swords at every occasion with Barker accusing Stanford of beating a dead horse and Stanford choosing to make the issue of a sewer connection more about a new school location.

“Projects like this could potentially have far-reaching impacts into the future,” Stanford said. “And the one aspect where the community was never given a chance to make any input was the location. I think there are better locations along the sewer lines that would be less costly. I’ve been stopped on the street by citizens in Rafter J who will be shuttling kids to both schools, in both directions. I’m willing to help. I think it’s incumbent upon us to get this right.”

Wyoming attorney general Peter Michael has no improprieties in the site selection process for the new 77,316-square-foot school building that will accommodate 584 students. School district officials closed on the 20-acre property on December 31, 2015. Regardless, Stanford has asked joint planner Tyler Sinclair for a compliance and consistency report on whether the school site is aligned with the Comp Plan. Councilor Bob Lenz says he worries the Munger Mountain location will create a de facto upzone of the surrounding Hog Island area.

Meanwhile, GE Johnson has estimated a new four-inch main necessary to connect Munger with the town’s system would cost roughly $1.9 million for the 4.3 miles and one lift station required to pump sewage north to the treatment plant. Designer Y2 Consultant’s Zia Yasrobi says he is on an extremely tight schedule to get work done in coordination with WYDOT’s proposed highway reconstruction south of town to Hoback Junction.

“We wanted to piggyback with WYDOT to be able to do this and I have to give them working drawings by the end of July,” Yasrobi said. “As it is, we will be working 12-hour days with a full staff. If we wait until the July 20th meeting, we lose WYDOT and an estimated $600,000.”

Barker said the district was prepared to move to Plan B if a hookup is denied, even though they had $1.217M already into a design that assumed piping poo north. That would mean a more costly and undesirable onsite treatment of sewage, something Frank was adamantly opposed to.

“Our elected school board has met the state standards. We are not here tonight to talk about site selection. We are talking about the sewer system just as we have this very evening approved a sewer connection to the airport,” Frank said. “A lot of people think the airport is not in an appropriate location. Why would we approve that? We are all on the same team here. No one can make the argument we don’t need that school now. The Board of County Commissioners has the power to upzone or downzone areas in Hog Island. It’s a baseless fear. We need to safeguard our environment and educate our children. Denying a sewer connection is not only counter-intuitive it’s counter-intelligent.”

Political hopefuls Pete Muldoon (mayor) and Jessica Chambers (council) spoke against allowing a sewer hookup for the Munger Mountain school.

“I am a little surprised the district would consider an unsafe and unsanitary condition,” Muldon said, referencing the district’s backup plan of creating leach fields onsite. This is bad for traffic and wildlife, and flies in the face of the Comprehensive Plan. Many believe the process was flawed. I believe that. If we grant that sewer access we will be inviting further growth in a place where we said it does not belong. The only option left is to stop this development even though that’s not what is on the agenda.”

Chambers added, “If you have two plans then you don’t have a plan. At least take some time to consider the location. Extending the sewer line encourages more development south of town when we are trying to contain it as it is.”

County chair of the Democratic Party Luther Probst also warned of the growth-enabling aspect of the Munger location.

“This is not about what’s good for the children,”Probst said. “It’s clear when a city or a town extends the sewer line out into an area, with that kind of traffic, it will encourage growth. Intense development will be hard to avoid. This is a much bigger decision than [a sewer connection]. This is a very critical decision for the community.”

School trustees Kate Mead and Patricia Russell offered a counter argument.

“This sewer system connection is a great thing for the taxpayers unlike the airport that had a failed system, and we are all paying for that and now paying again,” Mead said. “As for the choice of site, I assure you we have done everything we can to have a site closer to town. We have some constraints. We can’t pay a million an acre. All over the country you see schools on the edge of town for just this reason. You are saying to the airport, ‘You are bringing in tourists and tax money, but our students aren’t worth a hookup.”

Russell added, “I assure you we have spent years trying to find a site for this school. I remind you that this is not about the school site. We are on a very tight time frame. If this is going to create more homes because of the sewer line then we will have to build a bigger Kelly school, apparently, because we are now tying in the airport.”

The sewer connection remains in limbo, deadlocked in a 2-2 vote. The discussion will continue this week. PJH

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