Stakeholders meet to discuss outreach plan for Eagle water plant construction
EAGLE — Eagle officials know it will be a tough sell to get community support for a new 2.5 million-gallon-per-day water treatment plant; so last week, they reached out to a group of specially selected stakeholders to present arguments in support of the project.
Interim Town Manager Tom Boni launched the discussion by noting the proposed Lower Basin Water Treatment Plant, which would be built upstream from the existing Eagle Wastewater Treatment Plant, is the town board’s top priority.
“How do we supply reliable water to the town of Eagle now and into the future?” Boni said.
Boni said discussions about the plan construction actually began 10 years ago, when the town realized it was approaching capacity at its existing 4.3 million-gallons-per-day water plant during the summer months when residents water their lawns and landscaping. Usage during the summer brings the plant operations to 80 percent of capacity.
What about conservation?
Chris Lehrman, consulting engineer with SGM of Glenwood Springs, has been working with the town on the plant project. He noted the new facility has been planned so that it can expand to treat as much as 5 million gallons per day, but the initial operation would be at the 2.5 million-gallon-per-day level.
“One of the comments we had seen over the past few months is, ‘Can we put off this new plant with conservation?’” Lehrman said.
He said the short answer is no.
Lehrman explained that Eagle already has engaged a number of conservation efforts, including improvements to its water-delivery system to prevent leaks and institution of summertime watering restrictions. But he said Eagle cannot solve its long-term water needs through conservation alone.
While the capacity issue is one of the driving needs for the new plant, according to Lehrman, the town’s system also lacks redundancy — the ability to find alternate ways to deliver water in the event of a break in one part of the delivery system. Part of the new plant design would address that issue.
As for the location of the plant, Eagle doesn’t have the water rights it would need to expand the existing water plan located up the Brush Creek Valley.
“We can’t put the plant off forever,” Lehrman said.
Eagle Town Planner Morgan Landers elaborated on that idea. “We are no longer in a recession. We are starting to see growth in town.”
Construction of a new water treatment plant won’t be cheap. The current estimate carries a $23 million price tag.
Landers said Eagle has been saving for a new water-treatment plant for years and has compiled a $8.7 million fund for the project. But that still means Eagle will have to get a loan to pay for the remainder of the plant cost.
The town has proposed obtaining a Colorado State Revolving Fund Loan for the project. This would be a low-interest loan administered by the state program with an estimated 20-year repayment term. The repayment would be financed by an additional surcharge paid by Eagle water customers. The town estimates the surcharge would be an additional $20 to $30 on monthly town water bills.
“There has been a lot of concern about this,” Boni said. “I don’t think there is anyone from the town staff or the town board who doesn’t recognize this is a burden.”
When presented with the arguments for the plant construction and the anticipated costs for the plant, some stakeholders seemed resigned that the project reflected the realities of a growing community with aging infrastructure. Others said they wanted to see tighter numbers about both the need and the costs before they weighed in on the plan.
But nearly everyone stressed the payback plan needed to be fair — spreading out the costs among water customers and new construction.
Town representatives noted they are working to establish a guaranteed maximum price for the plant construction while looking at both tap fees and water rates to pay for the plant.
“Before we start looking at how to pay for it, we certainly need to know how much it will cost,” Boni said.
But he stressed the discussion has moved beyond the point of whether or not Eagle needs the plant. The town’s leaders are convinced the need has been demonstrated, and they hope to start construction by spring 2018.
“The hardest part of this is the reality we have to pay for this,” said Eagle Mayor Anne McKibbin. “The choice not to build this plant is not a realistic choice.”