Purdy residents contest need for sewer proposal
Officials say cost is inescapable, will rise with fines
Purdy residents heard bad news from attorneys, city and state officials about the possibility of escaping from the ramifications of the going dispute over the city's sewer system.
At the first of two planned public meetings over the bond issue scheduled for Nov. 3, speakers reported plans to correct the sewer system's shortcomings will go forward if voters approve the bonds or not. The difference will be the cost.
Purdy city officials and their engineers with Allgeier, Martin and Associates have negotiated an agreement with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Under the plan, the city will build a six-inch pipeline from the city to the Monett wastewater plant, approximately seven miles, for treatment. Other options include building a new mechanical plant in the city on one of two designs, both of which would require perpetual maintenance. The pipeline plan will free the city of any future obligations to meet treatment upgrade requirements.
The project, according to engineering projections, would cost $4.5 million. The proposed bond issue would authorize city officials for up to $4.6 million in case of additional contingencies. Passage would position the city to secure $3 million in grant money from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and $1 million in loans, or other funding options through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The call for a quick election would give Purdy the best opportunity to compete for available grant and loans. Failure to pass the revenue bond would take Purdy out of contention for funding available on a competitive basis.
"DNR has a legal agreement with the city of Purdy to upgrade its system," said Kristi Savage-Clarke, environmental specialist with DNR. "If passage of the bond issue doesn't happen, DNR will go to the attorney general for breach of agreement. Then the case will go to [the federal Environmental Protection Administration]. You do not want that to happen. If it doesn't pass, we will ask you to keep raising rates."
"From a legal standpoint, the EPA would file suit against the city and DNR," said Joseph Johnson, attorney with the Springfield legal firm of Lathrop and Gage. "It would go to federal court. At some point, there would be enforcement action. There will be an order to raise rates until you have enough money to pay for [the project]."
"If the vote goes against this, you will have to pay anyway," said Steve Goehl, with the financial advisory firm of D.A. Davison and Company. "They'll raise rates to pay for the fines."
City customers will face higher sewer rates regardless. Under terms to qualify for funding, city customers must spend 2 percent of the median income on sewer charges, which will raise rates to approximately $60 a month. At the present time, Purdy customers pay around $40 a month, or about two-thirds of the needed threshold.
Johnson said at one time, DNR had no concerns about forcing communities to raise rates as high as $100 to $150 a month to fix sewer systems. Now, DNR wants to keep costs affordable. Johnson described Purdy's rate as one of the lowest he has seen.
Chris Erisman, vice president with Allgeier, Martin and Purdy's principal engineer on the project, said the city will have an agreement in writing with DNR that the cost will be affordable. If Purdy voters reject the bond issue, the city and its engineers will attempt to again negotiate the affordability issue with DNR.
Monett will also have an obligation to keep the price reasonable. According to Mayor Steve Roden, the verbal agreement with Monett would offer sewer service at 80 percent of the city's residential rate. Monett can make the lower rate available because the project would not use any city pipes, which represents 20 percent of the city's expense. Purdy would build its own pipeline generally parallel to the Missouri-Arkansas Railroad line, then west in a parallel line with Highway 60 to the wastewater plant. One pump station would handle the entire operation.
Erisman quoted the facilities plan that cited Purdy's effluent would run approximately 170,000 gallons a day. That amount, however, is the peak flow. Purdy generally produces approximately 55,000 gallons a day. Monett's wastewater plant has a capacity of 6 million gallons a day, and normally uses less than 3 million gallons. Skip Schaller, Monett utilities superintendent, said Purdy's output would represent no challenge to either capacity or content to the city's treatment capabilities, especially since the effluent runs only at residential strength.
Several in the audience of around two dozen people at the meeting in Purdy challenged the need for the project altogether. They argued that the farmer leasing the irrigation field used for land application of effluent fertilized the ground. Test wells, they asserted, registered applied fertilizer in detecting excessive nitrates.
Savage-Clarke reported that monthly in 2011 and 2012, test wells detected consistent amounts in excess of the city's sewer permit. Two times the biochemical oxygen demand was excessive, and one time the amount of total suspended solids exceeded standards.
"There were quite a few violations when the case started," Savage-Clarke said. "A strong source of nitrates is urine. There's urine in the sewer. It's up to the city to test it, and they have to treat whatever comes out of the sewer."
Savage-Clarke conceded that DNR had not tested the effluent flowing into the wastewater lagoon to see if nitrates ran high prior to contact with the irrigation field.
Other factors compounded the city's position. According to J. Eric DeGruson, civil engineer with Allgeier, Martin, the city's current sewer operating permit does not allow discharge into a losing stream. The irrigation field does not have an active stream nearby, and the dry creek bed nearby represents a losing stream. Because the city's east lagoon can overflow, and has during high water conditions, the system lacks sufficient capacity to handle the effluent volume.
Expanding the lagoon could address that, but because of the karst soil conditions, DNR has deemed the lagoon as having a high potential for collapse. Consequently, the city cannot expand the lagoon. DeGruson also observed that if the ground freezes, irrigation cannot continue, leaving the lagoon to fill to dangerous levels.
Purdy does not face such issues in isolation, Savage-Clarke said.
"I can assure you every city in Missouri is going to gave to upgrade due to new ammonia standards that came through the EPA. Bacteria changes it into nitrates," she said. "This area is particularly sensitive to nitrates."
While the size of Purdy's pipeline to Monett may seem unusually long, Johnson said Taney County is pumping sewage from remote subdivisions nine miles. Purdy could not, as former mayor David Redshaw suggested, abandon the sewer system and revert to septic tanks.
"The lots aren't big enough," Savage-Clarke said.
She added DNR now encourages smaller systems to consolidate with bigger operations to better absorb upgrade expenses.
Several in the audience questioned how Purdy voters could approve a bond deal with no written agreement in advance or rates specified with Monett. Ruby Wilks, who has butted heads with city officials in the past over sewer issues, said no private business would operate that way.
"The way the bonding business and financial programs work, no entity gives a grant unless they know you have financing to do the loan," Goehl said. "Once you show you have matching funds, you go through the affordability process. If you're doing it private, you'd have everything lined up before you go to the bank. The city has to get pre-approved for a loan to get the loan."
Loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program would run in the low 3 percent range. Funding through DNR would run under 2 percent. Goehl said the city would only have to issue the bonds to cover what remained outstanding after the grants and loans. Bonds with DNR could run out to 20 years, and USDA bonds could extend as far as 35 years.
If voters approve the bonds, the proposal would move into the detailed design stage. Applications would be made for the grants and loans. Once DNR approved the project and the funding agency approved the bids, the city's bonds would go up for sale. No interest would be due before that. Erisman figured that the project would not be completed before 2018.
Some voiced concerns about Monett summarily raising rates once Purdy was trapped into using Monett's system. Erisman said negotiations would address that. With the resolution of Purdy's sewer issues, the city would have the option to add sewer customers again. A trailer park west of the city was included in the facilities plan as part of a bigger Purdy operation.
Wilks asked Roden if he had played a part in swinging the deal to Monett's advantage, since he worked for the Monett water department. Roden said the proposal had passed unanimously and he had not voted. He polled other city council members, all of whom were present. Alderman Larry Rickman announced that he had voted against the plan, even though, as Roden observed, Rickman signed the ordinance placing the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Roden said he would have more copies of the facilities plan for the project printed and available at city hall. The document referred to options not presently available, such as satellite community grants, for which Monett would have had to apply.
"After going down a lot of options, DNR said [piping to Monett] was the best," Erisman said.
Pamphlets describing the project are available at Purdy City Hall. A second public meeting on the proposal will be held at 7 p.m. on Oct. 27 at the Purdy Community Building.
A simple majority is required for passage of the bond issue.