by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — The Northlands General Improvement District (GID) Board of Directors, made up of the membership of the Walsenburg City Council, met with a number of property owners in the GID Monday night at Walsenburg City Hall.
The purpose of the meeting was the board’s request, prompted by city council discussions last week, to have the property owners in the Northlands area to have a loan repayment plan in place for review by early next month. The board set an April 8 meeting to review the progress of the repayment plan, with members of the property owners saying they might need a bit more time, as some of their group are currently out of the area and their input is necessary for completion of the plan.
After the GID meeting, the property owners met privately with Jason Meyer and Ken White of GMS Inc. Consulting Engineers to learn more about the scope of work and to gain some knowledge regarding repayment plans from grant / loan programs the firm is familiar with.
Discussion concerning the decommissioning of sewer lagoons that service many of the businesses in the Northlands area was held and it was explained by city administration, these would have to be Quit Claimed to the city to allow for USDA funds to be used to close them. There were also some preliminary discussions concerning approximately seven septic systems in the Northlands that would also need to be closed once the sewer system is built and those entities begin to hook up to it. Walsenburg City Administrator David Johnston said there will be future discussions with state and federal grant / loan granters to see if there is any way to encompass those decommissionings within the Northlands Sanitary Sewer System project’s loan / grant program. “The USDA will take a second look at that for potential work through the loan / grant,” Johnston said. Johnston added the sewer lagoons and the septic systems fall under the authority of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and not the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
In response to an email from Johnston saying, in effect, that rumors among some citizens in town the sewer lagoons in the Northlands will draw the attention of the EPA, and will subject the city to millions of dollars of fees and fines once the cleanup has started, Meyer explained, “ The State of Colorado has primacy with respect to regulating, monitoring and enforcement actions pertaining to potable water and sanitary sewage facility with in the state of Colorado. One of the various responsibilities taken on by the state in its role of overseeing wastewater facilities is the administration of the state’s wastewater discharge permit system. As such, EPA does not have any direct involvement with the state’s administration and procedures associated with decommissioning a wastewater treatment facility or discontinuing a discharge permit for an individual facility.”
Meyer went on to say,”…With regard to the lagoons in question, the State of Colorado, specifically the CDPHE, WQCD (Water Quality Control Division), is the agency involved in administering the decommissioning of the lagoons. As presented at the past (Walsenburg) finance committee meeting, EPA’s only potential direct involvement would be if the biosolids from the lagoons were going to be disposed of at a landfill site. Regarding the comment the city will be subject to fees and fines from the EPA, since Colorado has primacy, EPA would not be assessing any fines or penalties. Given the nature and history of the lagoons, the CDPHE / WQCD will be as pleased as the city and the Northlands GID to see the decommissioning of the lagoons with the wastewater generated in the area being sent to the city’s upgraded wastewater treatment facility.”
Meyer added, “We believe the state will see this as a win-win for everyone involved, including the state. This achieves the state’s objective of consolidating small, inefficient and ineffective wastewater treatment plants with ones that are being operated and run properly, which also lessens the amount of active permits they have to manage.”
Meyer said GMS has worked with multiple communities where their old lagoon systems have been decommissioned including biosolids removal and regarding the sites and reclaiming them. “With respect to the Northlands lagoons, similar activities will be undertaken,” he said.