As Eagle and Gypsum eye growth on horizon, both towns consider large infrastructure projects
GYPSUM — With rising building materials costs and increased real estate transaction numbers, Eagle County is poised to transition from moderate to high growth mode.
The downvalley communities of Eagle and Gypsum have seen this before, and they know they had better be ready for an influx. Their municipal preparedness is particularly evident, as the towns look at large-scale infrastructure improvements.
In Eagle, the much-publicized Lower Basin Water Treatment Plant is a $23 million project with construction slated to begin this summer. Eagle anticipates that Phase I of the plant will be complete in 2020. Gypsum also is looking at its infrastructure needs, and last week, the town approved a $38,000 contract with SGM, of Glenwood Springs, to conduct a communitywide wastewater system study.
Getting ahead of the game
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According to Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll, while Gypsum is in growth mode, the community’s wastewater plan still has a considerable amount of available capacity.
“We are about at 50 percent, so the plant capacity is OK. But I would argue that we are two 100-room hotels away from the 80 percent level,” Shroll said.
While he quickly noted that there are no actual hotel applications before the town, Shroll said the 80 percent figure is critical. When communities reach the 80 percent of capacity level for water or wastewater systems, the state recommends they begin active expansion planning. At the 90 percent of capacity level, the state recommends commencing with construction.
“While we are in good shape now, we need to know what’s our next plan,” Shroll said.
At this point, the town also doesn’t know what an expansion plan could cost. The study will help dial in that figure.
Gypsum’s wastewater issues are more about its collection lines than its actual treatment facility, according to Shroll. He said the study will examine that situation.
Gypsum’s wastewater treatment plant, located in the western area of the Eagle River Estates subdivision, has both existing capacity and the ability to expand operations. But the collection lines that feed the site may not be large enough to handle the load. The town’s initial study of the situation indicates a lift station could help alleviate the problem, but the comprehensive study will flesh out a plan.
“We want to look at everything and plan accordingly,” Shroll said. “We are in good financial shape, but we just want to make sure what we are looking at. We don’t want anything to sneak up on us.”
He compared the wastewater study to the town’s annual trash truck budget item. Each year, Gypsum puts $500,000 in its spending plan with the idea that when a truck eventually breaks down, the town will have the money to pay for a new one. Setting aside that money isn’t particularly fun for the town, but it is important, Shroll said.
“Everyone likes spending money on parks and trails and shiny roads and rec center expansions,” he said. “But everyone wants a hot shower in the morning, and that water has to go down the drain to some place. We want to make sure to take care of the non-glamorous things that are necessary.”
Eagle’s planning decade
Eagle’s Lower Basin Water Treatment Plant has become a more hotly discussed item recently, in part because the town is looking at an estimated $30 per month surcharge for water customers to help finance the $23 million project. The plant itself was first introduced back in 2007.
“The town completed the design of the plant in 2012. Given the economic recovery, current and projected demands for water and the need for water service redundancy, the town believes the time is right to move forward with building a new plant,” states Water News, a town of Eagle newsletter regarding the project. “In Phase 1, the new plant will produce 2.5 million gallons per day of high-quality potable water, providing redundancy and the capacity to serve the town over the next 20-year period.”
Like Gypsum, Eagle began saving for the project when the planning commenced.
“Since 2011, the town has been collecting prepayment of water tap fees at the approval of new development projects. This pre-payment structure, plus past increases in water rates, has built up a reserve of $8,757,000 toward the cost of funding a new water plant,” states the town newsletter.
The remaining estimated $14.25 million will be financed with a Colorado State Revolving Fund Loan. The state administers these low-interest loans to fund the construction of new water and pollution-control infrastructure.
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.