In the wake of a 41.6 percent tax increase and a proposed $6 million budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the Tri-City Regional Sanitary District (TRSD) came one step closer to getting its sewer project off the ground, as the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development Agency (USDA-RD) issued its Letter of Conditions, a precursor to the release of funds that will get the project underway.
The potential USDA-RD funding would come in the form of a $28 million grant/loan for the first phase of a three-phase project intended to bring a modern sewage treatment plant to an area served by often failing septic systems and antiquated cesspools that were deemed illegal by the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s.
Funding is structured so that $16 million will be in the form of a grant, while the remaining $12 million will consist of a 40-year, low-interest loan.
The TRSD board called a special meeting last week to approve the letter, with several members of the public on hand to ask questions that have so far been left unanswered.
Some in attendance will not be served by the proposed sewer system, although they are in the district’s Declared Management Area (DMA) and will continue to pay the tax as long as the district exists.
Among the most vocal of those critics is local contractor Fred Barcón, whose offices are north of Highway 60 and, at best, will be part of a later phase of the project, if the TRSD can get past many obstacles including identifying future sources of funding and coordination with the Arizona Department of Transportation to find solutions for piping that part of the district.
Barcón has been following the project since its inception eight years ago but has become more outspoken as the district hits benchmarks and inches closer to getting construction underway.
Much of Barcón’s criticism surrounds the perceived secrecy surrounding the project and fundamental mistakes he believes the board has been making.
One problem he sees that manifested itself in the previous TRSD meeting is the overlapping of the TRSD DMA with existing sewer systems serviced by Miami and Globe. The municipal systems have sufficient capacity to treat sewage in the TRSD, but the district has refused to deal with the towns and has moved forward as a separate entity that must build its system from the ground up.
Additionally, part of the DMA is in a part of Miami that is getting a complete sewer system overhaul that is being funded by the USDA.
At the previous meeting, both Barcón and Globe Mayor Al Gameros pointed out the discrepancies, but the TRSD board was not able to address the issue because it was not on the agenda.
Board President Bob Zache has previously voiced his intent to take over the portion of the Miami system, but Town of Miami officials do not believe it will be possible.
In March, the TRSD received its Environmental Assessment, done by Logan Simpson, a consultant for USDA Rural Utilities Service that conclude the project would have no adverse environmental impacts.
Among the next steps to get funding to start the project is to get approval of a Section 208 Water Quality Management Plan Amendment from Central Arizona Governments (CAG), and organization of 26 municipalities throughout the Copper Corridor and the Valley.
Gameros is currently serving as chair of CAG.
“All these discrepancies in the 208 drive the costs of the project up,” Barcón said. “Whoever drew up the 208 permit did not take the time to meet with any of the installers for wastewater systems.”
Barcón was referring to the costs cited in the draft 208 plan that estimates $25,000-$30,000 for a septic system he says can be installed for $6,000-$12,000, further wondering why the district continues to move forward despite the issues he cited.
District counsel Bill Clemmens suggested that Barcón submit his questions in writing for the next board meeting.
Despite questions from the public, the TRSD board passed Resolution 18-002 unanimously approved the Letter of Conditions and stated the project engineer will be on hand at the next meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 4 at 5:15 p.m. at the Tri-City Fire Department in Claypool.
In prior meetings, Zache deferred questions to the engineer, who has not been in attendance at the meetings.
The proposed project is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars and consists of some 58,000 linear feet of gravity sewer lines, 7,500 feet of forced sewer main lines, approximately 145 new manholes, 856 new service connections, multiple sewage water lift stations, and a water reclamation facility to process 250,000 gallons per day.
In the past, TRSD officials stated the estimated capital for the entire system would be $52.9 million. But estimates from outside the district have ranged as high as $92 million for all three phases, and it is possible the final two phases will be funded entirely by loans.
The TRSD was formed in 2011 for the purpose of creating a sewer system for the unincorporated areas of Lower Miami, Claypool, Miami Gardens, Country Club Manor, Midland City, Bechtel Tract and Central Heights, which encompasses five and one-half square miles with an estimated population of 4,022.
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