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PAWSD breaks ground on Highlands project

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District broke ground on its $9.3 million Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)-funded Highlands Lagoon Elimination project.

In addition to representatives from PAWSD, contractor Triad Western Constructors, local subcontractor Hart Construction and local project engineering firm Briliam Engineering, the ceremony was also attended by representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. John Salazar. Representatives from Archuleta County and Ecosphere Environmental Services were also present.

“We have been anticipating this day since our fund authorization last June; one day late and we would have lost every penny of the funding,” said Sheila Berger, special projects manager for PAWSD.

While the district was authorized for nearly 30 percent of the entire state’s $34 million ARRA allocation for wastewater projects, the funding comes with strict timelines and regulations, including project start date (no later than Sept. 30) and contractual assurances such as payment of Davis-Bacon wages, Buy American requirements and restrictions on local hiring preferences.

PAWSD Project Manager Gregg Mayo said, “There were and are numerous hoops to obtain and maintain the federal funding but it is well worth jumping through every one of them.”

The Highlands Project, scheduled for completion in November 2011, will simultaneously resolve aesthetic, environmental and treatment capacity issues while injecting millions into the local economy.

The aging wastewater lagoon facility, located at the north end of North Pagosa Boulevard, will be retired after more than 30 years of service, and sewage from its service area will flow down to the Vista mechanical plant located at the PAWSD complex on Lyn Avenue. Some of the issues resolved by eliminating this facility include periodically exceeding state Clean Water Act thresholds for effluent (post-treatment outflow) water quality and ongoing odor issues for the surrounding neighborhoods.

Also, due to capacity limitations and the treatment methodology of the lagoon, PAWSD has had a moratorium since 2006 on connections to the Highlands facility, including on any new developments in unsubdivided areas, even if that property is within the sewer district boundaries. Eliminating the Highlands facility will allow the district to lift the moratorium on new development.

In addition to future benefits, the local economy will benefit immediately from the project. Although the contractor for the project, Triad Western Constructors, Inc., is based in Cortez, the firm has subcontracted three of the six project segments to local contractor Hart Construction. In addition, Triad will advertise for local laborers and crew members.

Highlands Elimination Project updates, including information about the biosolids beneficial use (soil amendment) component of the project, can be read at and in the district’s fall newsletter to be released in November.