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BSWSD puzzles over Spanish Peaks agreement

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Considers increased plant upgrade costs, rate structure changes


BIG SKY – At its May 21 board meeting, the Big Sky Water and Sewer District continued to troubleshoot how to meet an agreement with Spanish Peaks concerning capacity.

Other meeting topics included an update of increasing short-term cost estimates on the wastewater treatment plant upgrade and a first look at different rate charging structures than are currently in place.

Since February, the district and Spanish Peaks, for whom BSWSD provides sewer services, have been trying to reconcile two separate limiting factors in a district agreement written in 2002.

The agreement states that Spanish Peaks “shall be allowed to connect improvements on other lands identified in Exhibit F to the District’s wastewater treatment facilities to treat and dispose of [42.56 million] gallons of wastewater per year, which is the equivalent of 1,000 SFEs.”

With Spanish Peaks’ current platted lots, at full build-out, the district projects the developer will reach its limit in terms of SFEs, but, at Spanish Peaks’ current sewer-flow rate for structures already built, the club projects that at full build-out they should be still significantly below the flow maximum of 42 million gallons a year.

However, the agreement continues, “for the purpose of fulfilling its obligation to provide future sewer works capacity, the District shall use total wastewater flow as the sole criteria and not SFEs,” designating flow rate as the binding portion of the agreement.

Because Spanish Peaks hasn’t neared the max-flow rate of the agreement, they requested more SFEs from the district in November of 2018 to continue developing two projects.

The district has been hesitant to grant the club’s request for fear of committing and being legally bound to supply more sewage capacity than their facility and effluent storage can handle. As many developments around Big Sky that will connect to the district’s sewer system have been permitted but not yet built, there’s a possibility the district won’t be able to fulfill its obligations to other developments.

“I think you guys are so far ahead of yourselves to sell future capacity now,” district chair Packy Cronin told his board, which largely stood in disagreement with him. “I can’t even express how far ahead of yourselves you are.”

Providing more SFEs to the club could also have repercussions on several other agreements between the district and developers who have reached their SFE maximums but not their flow capacity.

Since February, a subcommittee of the board has met three times with representatives of Spanish Peaks, which yielded a draft agreement that would involve tight monitoring of sewer flow rates as development progresses, and punishments if the developer exceeds the 42-million-gallon maximum. The draft would also require the club to provide increased effluent storage capacity as a consequence of exceeding the maximum.

The board decided to review the draft agreement in greater detail, submit input to General Manager Ron Edwards and have the district’s attorney review the document before convening again on June 18 for a possible approval of the document.

Engineers from Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services (AE2S) updated the board on a comprehensive water-modeling system they recently completed that allows the district to far more accurately track the movement of the water within their water system. The accuracy of the system increases the district’s odds of finding leaks that, under the high pressure required to pump water over 2,000 feet of elevation difference, can result in large losses of water, an already scarce resource in the area.

Scott Buecker, also of AE2S, updated the board on the status of the wastewater treatment plant upgrade, offering three alternative avenues of incorporating the land the district recently gained from the Big Sky Community Organization.

Buecker gave three alternatives, the third of which had the most benefits, but had the highest short-term price tag: $30.5 million. However, over a seven-year period, the third alternative would have a similar cost to the other two.

The district agreed to further review the details of the upgrade option before determining which alternative to pursue at their regular June 18 meeting.

BSWSD is considering changing its rate structure as well, allowing it to allocate costs of water and sewer operations in proportion to the costs ratepayers incur on the district, a topic they will further discuss at next month’s meeting.

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