An important step was taken Tuesday night during a joint meeting of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) and Pagosa Springs Sanitation and General Improvement District (PSSGID) boards, when an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) was approved by both boards that will have town sewage treated at PAWSD’s Vista wastewater treatment plant.
Charged by federal and state agencies to improve its wastewater treatment system, the PSSGID board has spent years grappling with funding for a new facility to handle the town’s sewage, one that would bring the town in compliance with state and federal regulations. With funding nearly in place from a number of sources, PSSGID was close to breaking ground on a new facility.
That is, until PAWSD made a unique proposal last fall that could potentially save the town upwards of $4 million in construction costs.
That proposal entails building infrastructure to pump town sewage to PAWSD’s Vista facility. After numerous presentations made late last year by PAWSD officials and a town subcommittee to the PSSGID board, both boards directed their attorneys to draft an IGA (both boards are represented by attorneys from the firm of Collins, Cockrel & Cole).
Prior to Tuesday’s discussion, PSSGID board member Bob Hart recused himself from the vote due to his construction company’s involvement with the town’s proposed treatment plant.
Although previous discussions by the PSSGID board indicated an unanimously high degree of enthusiasm for the proposal, that consensus was apparently not shared by the PAWSD board.
Dissension came from PAWSD board members Jan Clinkenbeard and Windsor Chacey, following comments by local resident John Bozek.
“I personally am kind of disappointed in your current apparent lack of transparency in this issue,” Bozek said. “Correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think there’s even been a public hearing on this or a draft or a bullet point that’s been presented to the public.”
At that point, PAWSD board Chair Steve Hartvigsen and Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem stated that, up to that point, the process had been discussed in numerous open meetings, all with the issue noticed. Hartvigsen added that, at least regarding the PAWSD board, few (if any) local residents chose to attend.
Mitchem added that the draft IGA was fairly recent, but conceded that previous drafts had not been made available except through dissemination at the various meetings.
Bozek continued, asking about costs, specifically to PAWSD customers, and overall expense to the town.
PAWSD General Manager Ed Winton explained that the town (overall) would be charged a “municipality rate” (essentially, a bulk rate), adding that town customers would be paying the same rate charged to PAWSD customers.
Bozek returned to the issue of transparency, claiming he had requested, “numerous times, for over a month, a copy of that document and I’ve never seen it.”
Hartvigsen told Bozek that the draft IGA had not been offered to the public since, “We knew that it would go back and forth between the boards as we worked out the details.”
Winton offered Bozek a copy of the IGA under consideration. Bozek declined, stating that he needed time to review the document, asking that both boards delay a decision on the IGA until the public had time to comment on the proposal.
Clinkenbeard and Chacey then expressed their concerns over the IGA. While Clinkenbeard backed up Bozek, saying she had requested the draft IGA be made available to the public, Chacey expressed larger concerns regarding the effect the agreement would have on PAWSD ratepayers.
“He (Phil Starks, PSSGID supervisor) said that this agreement is generous,” Chacey said. “I think it’s too generous.”
As reported in The SUN last December, both Clinkenbeard and Chacey expressed several reservations regarding the IGA, mostly with the use of PAWSD reserves to fund the project and that, while town customers would be seeing a decrease in sewer rates, district customers would continue to pay the same rate.
However, PAWSD board member Roy Vega stated that he had carefully reviewed the document and believed the agreement was beneficial for both districts. Furthermore (and in response to Bozek’s remarks), Vega added he had been voted onto the PAWSD board “by a sizeable majority” due to the care he’d promised in making decisions for ratepayers and taxpayers, and that the votes for him implied he could make decisions without benefit of a public forum on every issue.
“I’m prepared to move tonight to approve this agreement,” Vega said.
The PSSGID board was prepared. With little discussion during the meeting, the board unanimously approved the IGA.
Not so with the PAWSD board. After Hartvigsen called for a vote, the agreement passed with a 3-2 vote.
Although the IGA lays the groundwork for PAWSD processing PSSGID wastewater, the project ultimately awaits results from preliminary engineering and a feasibility study. Those results should be concluded by early spring.