Lawsuit with DNR described in Purdy Renewal meeting

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"We are in a lawsuit with the state of Missouri over non-compliance," said Purdy Mayor Steve Roden at a meeting of the Purdy Renewal Project on Nov. 21.

Roden's comments shed light on months of closed meetings between members of the Purdy City Council and attorneys over the status of the city's sewer system. Roden and Alderman Wayne Rupp both attended the Purdy Renewal Project's second public meeting on community improvements to share some views on the city's situation.

Roden estimated the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wanted a solution to the sewer situation that would cost between $4 million and $8 million. For a town of 800 people that takes in $16,000 a month in utilities, the bill seemed out of reach.

"We keep going along and the deadline keeps getting extended," Rupp said.

Roden indicated he had received paperwork to sign an agreement. He subsequently received a phone call from DNR directing him not to sign. The DNR representative explained the rules from the Environmental Protection Administration would change again in 2014, and DNR wanted to see the new targets before agreeing to a settlement.

Those attending the meeting talked at length about improving the Purdy community. The conversation regularly came back to the quality of housing. School Superintendent Steven Chancellor said the town lacks what he characterized as "housing for professionals."

"We have a lot to offer families: a more rural setting and a smaller school," Chancellor said. "People want to live here. It's hard to find housing in the community. Every year I talk to four to five families who say they'd like to live here, but there's no housing to buy."

Roden said at the present time, the city cannot accept additional sewer customers.

"We made a run three years ago to expand the sprinkler system at the lagoon," Roden said. "We tried to run a bond issue. Only city residents voted and we failed. DNR decided we need something bigger and better. We're looking at the possibility of a new full treatment facility. We're looking at starting over with something that's expandable."

A mechanical system, very different from the land-applied irrigation system presently in use, appears to be DNR's preference. Roden called the extended talks "a long, slow, drawn out process."

Based on the premise that residents should spend 2 percent of their median household income on sewer service, council members have raised sewer rates. Currently rates run an average of $40 a month, close to the target of $48 a month, based on Federal Census projections of the median incomes.

"If we don't right what's wrong, they can shut us down, raise rates and make you pay for it," Rupp said.

A number of alternatives have coming up in conversation with DNR. Roden said the city offered to buy porta-potties for every household. Other regulations would come into play then, rather than freeing up restrictions. The city looked at pumping its sewage to the Monett wastewater plant for treatment. The city's engineer determined the cost of permanently maintaining a system of pumps, let alone paying Monett for its services, put the cost out of reach before figuring out the final expense.

The city's current system does not adequately address the bio-chemical oxygen demand (BOD) and remove the nitrates from the effluent. Roden said DNR lowered the city's limits with its last permit, putting the target beyond what the city's system could do.

J.R. Aktar, who operates a mobile home park, said he could add 75 to 100 units to his park through installing a sewer treatment system for about $150,000. The cost seemed relatively inexpensive.

Roden said the city faced different standards for a public system, compared to a private operation, and could not use a similar solution. Aktar said if the city built a new system in compliance with the state, he could immediately expand the housing he offered.

Ken Terry said Purdy would not attract residents away from Cassville or Monett with simply a "decent" housing. Good quality houses "don't last long" in the city.

Roden talked about property maintenance issues and how difficult it was to convince owners that their buildings was substandard, even if not quite in the "unsafe" category. The city has pursued a strategy of demolishing homes that become a safety issue and have removed three structures.

Chancellor commended council members "for doing the best job you can." Others present wanted to know how they could help. Roden said the city could push harder to get properties upgraded. He lamented how there used to be more volunteers in town and that the civic organizations fromm past years had disappeared.

Gerry Wass, who served as moderator, said the Purdy Renewal Project and the Spanish Club, which runs the recycling program, had discussed starting an adult action program. Such a group could take on projects like cleaning up rundown properties. Robin Henderson had proposed a slogan they were using, "Taxes keep a town alive, community service makes it thrive." A "community investor" would receive recognition for committing 10 hours of service.

"If someone wanted to do that, we [the city council] have no problem with that. I think it would be good," Roden said.

Roden further noted that as long as he had lived in Purdy, it was "a community without borders." Efforts made by people living outside of the city limits would be welcomed.

Other ideas about improving the town, such as expanding the recycling service to accept glass, or introducing a Christmas parade, were suggested. Wass said the Purdy Renewal Project could try to organize an adult community service effort by January and be ready to take on projects by the spring.

The group decide to meet more often than quarterly and hold its next public meeting in January, 2014.

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