Blue River residents wary of sewer requirement
Summit County correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado
BLUE RIVER, Colorado ” With many of the town’s aging septic systems failing, Blue River officials are pushing residents to hook into a sewer system, but the effort has some locals raising a stink.
Town officials plan to put a measure on the February municipal ballot to join the Breckenridge Sanitation District ” a move that would require residents to pay as much as $24,000 for sewer lines to their homes when their septic systems fail.
“I really don’t think there is a down side to this,” said Blue River Mayor Lindsay Backas, who contends the plan would benefit the town of about 680 residents.
But Councilman Jon Warnick, one of two who voted against a resolution supporting the move, said he doesn’t see why the annexation is necessary now. He said it would make more sense if the sewer lines were installed in conjunction with water lines.
“Neighbors are asking me why this is being pushed on us so quickly,” he said. “The feeling I get is it’s being rushed.”
In a community that has resisted paving its dirt roads to maintain its rural character, the convoluted proposal has rubbed some the wrong way with its sense of government intrusion and potential price tag.
After paying an estimated $15,000 to $24,000 per-lot connection costs, residents joining the sanitation district will face a service fee, estimated at about $22 per month for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom household, Carlberg said.
(Even if residents don’t join the sanitation district, they may face a big expense if their septic systems fail. A replacement septic system can cost about $20,000.)
Town planning and zoning chairman Mark Nowak has said the annexation would help protect groundwater from contamination, which already has occurred in at least one instance.
Dan Hendershott, environmental manager with Summit County, said the environmental benefit would be significant, noting that between 8 and 10 percent of town septic systems have been discovered to be failing in recent years through change-of-ownership inspections.
“Gallon per gallon, the wastewater-treatment plant would be contributing less (nitrates) than a septic system,” he said, adding that the plants are required to report chemical levels to the state frequently.
This is much different from septic systems, which are monitored by the homeowners.
Ccounty regulations currently require a property owner with a failing septic system within 400 feet of a main sewer line to connect with the sewer.
But the town proposal would bring sewer lines into more subdivisions and past properties that now are outside the 400-foot boundaries, potentially requiring many more property owners to pay for a sewer hookup.
Sanitation district manager Andy Carlberg said that as the town continues to grow, the increase of homes on smaller lots on septic systems will lead to problems.
“And what they’re trying to do ” the town council ” is work with the sanitation district master plan so people aren’t hanging out to dry in the future without an option,” he said.
District board member Robin Theobald said in a phone interview that the incremental approach ” of letting homeowners connect to the sewer as needed ” will help to avoid the “huge upheavals and financial problems” that he has long feared could affect the town.
“I’ve always been concerned that … some day people will get a bill for $30,000 in the mail,” he said.
Property owners within the proposed annexation area also may “opt out” of the plans.
The Spruce Valley Ranch subdivision has already asked not to be included,
Theobald said. That neighborhood’s lots are larger than elsewhere in town, allowing more space for septic-system leach fields. And connection likely would be expensive because it would require a lift station for the sewage, he said.
But the Blue River treatment plant capacity is limited, so those who don’t initially “opt in” may not be able to do so in the future. And the present $7,000 inclusion fee likely will have increased.
“The real advantage to opting in now is that the inclusion fees are locked in ” so those fees aren’t going to go up,” Theobald said, adding that fees for the others could increase.
The proposal wouldn’t charge property owners until they’re ready to connect to the sewer, according to the fact sheet.
Construction wouldn’t be expected to begin for another four or five years after the approval, pending master planning and designing, according to the fact sheet.
Roger Kessler, who owns property in the town, said he’d like to be assured the annexation won’t affect his water rights before the issue goes to the voters.
He said he’s concerned with what appears to be a lack of coordination among government bodies ” particularly between the town and Colorado Division of Water Resources.
“The council needs to be communicating with the state water department to make sure that if this system is put in, it doesn’t jeopardize our well permits,” Kessler said.
Backas said there are no concerns regarding water rights, for the treatment facility is upstream from the proposed inclusion area. Carlberg said the same at the public hearing.
Kessler, who said he is in favor of town access to the sewers, is also concerned not all voices will be heard in the matter, as about two-thirds of the town’s property owners live on the Front Range and abroad.
At the Oct. 9 sanitation district meeting, the measure is expected to be put on a ballot for the public’s approval in February.
Mayor Backas said it’s difficult to ascertain whether there’s sufficient support for the sewer system, but the town has been working to communicate the annexation’s effects to residents.
Theobald expressed similar feelings of uncertainty.
“The election’s going to be the thing that tells the tale,” he said.
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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