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Town to seek grant for treatment plant

Signaling a reversal on decisions last year not to pursue the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant, the board of the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District directed its supervisor, Phil Starks, on Tuesday, to begin the application for USDA funding for a new plant.

The board previously rejected the idea of pursuing USDA funding when it was brought to the table last summer. At that time, the USDA had set forth two requirements that the board found insurmountable: designing the plant to be outside a 500-year floodplain and conducting an environmental assessment that would have driven initial costs for the USDA application up (with no guarantee of securing USDA funding).

However, according to Starks, the USDA has changed its requirements and appears to be more flexible in working with the PSSGID toward offering up funding. Seemingly entrenched with criteria stipulating a 500-year floodplain last year, the USDA now appears to offer an out, allowing the plant to be built within a 500-year floodplain “if no reasonable alternative exists.”

Furthermore, Starks said, costs for preliminary environmental assessments have dropped significantly, from cost estimates between $70,000 and $100,000 last year, to between $30,000 and $60,000 for current estimates.

Mitchem said, “The change in engineer is significant ... they’re showing us flexibility. They’re showing us the ratio of the grant (percentage of loan-to-grant money in proposed funding). We don’t have to go to FEMA.”

Previous preliminary costs were driven higher by prior demands that an environmental assessment satisfy FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) requirements — a demand that has apparently been dropped.

“Is it costly? Yes,” Mitchem added, “but it seems a reasonable expense to have a well-engineered plant.”

According to Starks, the PSSGID would likely receive a $3.3 million loan and a $2.7 million grant to go toward a $6 million plant — about $700,000 more than estimates for a previously rejected project.

Starks added that the plant would be a facility that would last at least 20 years and, when time expired on the plant, would merely require an upgrade as opposed to construction of an entirely new plant. Previous wastewater treatment plants in Pagosa Springs have been, in Starks’ words, “stopgap measures” that required entirely new construction once the plants became obsolete.

jim@pagosasun.com