Sewer application process suspended until further review
by Ron Georg, contributing writer
May 10, 2007 | 877 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
    At a special meeting May 7, the Grand Water Sewer and Service Agency voted to stop accepting applications for sewer service. The decision effectively suspends until at least Aug. 1, sewer service to all new accessory dwellings, subdivisions, or commercial buildings of more than one equivalent residential unit (ERU)  in the Spanish Valley Water and Sewer Improvement District, which runs from the south end of Moab to the San Juan County line.

    Spanish Valley Water District board member John Hartley made the motion, explaining that it should apply "at least until we get our source study completed," and it was approved unanimously by the board. Board members Rex Tanner and Dan Pyatt recused themselves and Kyle Bailey abstained.

    The action comes two weeks after an in-depth discussion by the GWSSA board that centered on Grand County's proposed changes to the accessory dwelling ordinance, which would loosen the restrictions on building a second dwelling on a property. "That just doubles what we're doing," Hartley said later. "They're increasing the density without warning us."

    With "will-serve" letters, the agency's promise of service, representing several hundred ERUs already in circulation, and the current wastewater treatment facility operating at over 60 percent of capacity, and the possibility of accessory dwellings sprouting like mushrooms, the GWWSA board and staff felt demand could quickly exceed capacity.

    "My view of it is very simply this: we have a very pressing rationale for a moratorium on sewer connections which is, we're out of inventory," board member Lance Christie said during the meeting. "At the rate we're going, if we don't stop it now, we're going to be over-committing until we can figure out how we're going to increase our capacity, and we have a concrete idea of when that will occur."

    Hartley emphasized that the action is not a moratorium in the legal sense. "All we're doing is saying give us a little bit of time so that we can get a handle on this. If we don't, everybody will say, "you guys dropped the ball.'"

    Board Member Kyle Bailey suggested that ball may have lain dormant for some time, and pointed out that Moab city has long held concerns about the potential effects of county growth on the city's wastewater facility.

    Hartley said he didn't feel the city's concerns were primary in the board's action.

    "I don't think we feel like the city is pressuring us to do this; we're just trying to be responsible and react to what we know could be a crisis if we don't be proactive about what we're doing," he said.

    "I appreciate that, because it's been six years that the city's been telling you that," Bailey responded.

    The agency is working with Sunrise Engineering to conduct the wastewater treatment plant study which will examine the feasibility of building a GWSSA facility to provide sewer service. The study, which should be completed Aug. 1, is a joint venture between GWSSA, San Juan County, and the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).

    Currently, sewer service is not available to San Juan County residents in Spanish Valley. Service would be convenient for residents across the county line, and it would help protect the valley's aquifer from leaching septic systems, some GWSSA members believe.

    In the meantime, GWWSA will issue no new will-serve letters. That includes  the Cloudrock development at Johnson's Up On Top mesa, which is still in the preliminary plat stage; the project will need a will-serve letter from GWSSA before the final plat approval.

    The issue is a potential crisis, but so far has not posed a problem because the city sewer plant has not reached capacity. During the last Jeep Safari, the wastewater treatment plant did process about 1.2 million gallons in a day, just 300,000 gallons short of its daily capacity. Overall, according to facility operator Greg Fosse, the plant operates at about 65 percent of capacity annually.

    "You can rest assured, from our standpoint, things are operating smoothly," Fosse said. He wasn't aware that the GWSSA was placing temporary restrictions on sewer applications.

    Once the application process is reopened, the agency will use a new will-serve letter; the amended version was also approved at the special meeting. The new letter reflects the board's desire to see accessory dwellings accounted for the same as any other project. The will-serve application fees will also increase, with new fees of $40 for residential applications (accessory dwellings are also $40), an additional $300 processing fee for commercial projects and a $500 fee for subdivisions.

    Single residential or commercial projects may still apply for will-serve letters, as long as they are single ERU projects. An equivalent residential unit supposes sewer use of 264 gallons a day, at 100 gallons per person and an average of 2.6 people per household.

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