Draft available to public, formal presentation to follow

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – At a Sept. 18 meeting of the Big Sky Water and Sewer District board, in addition to an update on the ongoing study of the output potential and treatment needs of two additional Big Sky wells, the Bozeman firm Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services (AE2S) provided a status report on the effluent treatment and disposal study that they’ve been preparing since January.

Scott Buecker, senior project manager at AE2S, said the 300-page document, and an executive summary of its contents, would be disseminated for the board’s assessment on Sept. 26. Rather than give a public presentation of the draft of AE2S’s findings and recommendations, the board decided they would like to review it, make suggestions, and allow AE2S to amend the document before presenting it to the public during a town hall meeting in the months to come.

The draft is now available to the public upon request.

The report will contain a matrix of the different disposal options, the costs associated, and the level of treatment facility upgrade required for each. “Discharging to the Gallatin is the most established framework,” Buecker said, adding that snowmaking is the most uncertain option at this point.

Board members Brian Wheeler, director of real estate and development at Big Sky Resort, and Mike DuCuennois, vice president of development for the Yellowstone Club, reacted to district manager Ron Edward’s affirmation of AE2S’s projections that disposal quantities via snowmaking “don’t move the needle much in terms of disposal effect.”

“Snowmaking came out on top from the water solutions forum, now you’re saying it’s not a good option,” Wheeler said, to which Buecker and Edwards responded almost simultaneously that there were no engineering figures to back it up.

A bureaucratic hurdle to snowmaking with treated effluent is the lack of precedent at the state level, so all terms and regulations would have to be established from scratch with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

DuCuennois is hoping to submit an application to DEQ within the next few months to at least get the process rolling.

Guy Alsentzer, executive director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper and a regular watchdog presence at district board meetings, voiced his opposition to the board editing the draft before presenting it to the public, calling for more transparency.

“That said, I will be substantively reviewing [AE2S’s report] and so too will a nutrient pollution and wastewater engineering expert that Waterkeeper has retained,” Alsentzer wrote in an email to EBS, reiterating what he told the board. “We intend to produce a critique for public consumption by mid-October, if timetables remain as planned.”

Because the study and recommendations will concern treatment and disposal options for wastewater, among them the hot-button topic of direct discharge into the Gallatin River, the board is taking precautions in their roll out of the study because of its potentially controversial nature.

The board will select a date for a public presentation of the study at the next board meeting at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, in the Big Sky Water and Sewer District office.