A sewer crisis that has stymied growth in northwest Lawrence and created concerns that the city's construction industry would start shedding jobs is essentially over.
City commissioners Tuesday unanimously agreed to a plan that would undertake more than $3 million worth of sewer improvements in the northwest part of town, which in turn would remove questions about whether the area's sewer system could handle projected growth.
"This is a big step to correct the majority of the problems we have in the northwest area," Mayor Mike Amyx said.
But commissioners stopped just short of officially declaring the problem dead because staff members now face an important task: to ensure that all the projects get started on time and work as planned. Specific questions about how much the city will pay for the improvements and how much developers in the area will contribute also must be worked out.
The plan calls for improving three existing sewage pump stations in the area, building a new station near the Kansas Turnpike and improving an existing piping system near Lake Alvamar in west Lawrence.
The projects could total significantly more than the $3 million estimate because that number does not include any costs for the new pump station. Assistant City Manager Debbie Van Saun told commissioners a cost estimate couldn't be made for that project until a more detailed report by Black & Veatch engineering is completed next month.
But commissioners ordered staff to push ahead with the plan, in part, because it received strong recommendations from both city staff members and key members of the development community.
Phil Struble, president of Landplan Engineering, told commissioners that he had spoken with a majority of the landowners in the area who may be asked to pay for part of the improvements as they develop their land.
"I have yet to run into a single property owner who has said they weren't on board with this deal," Struble said. "I just want to let you know that from our standpoint, we're on board to work with the city staff."
Commissioners also received assurances from staff members that none of the proposed improvements would create problems in other parts of town. There has been concern that if sewer systems become overloaded it would cause raw sewage to back up into basements or through manholes.
"One of the clearest goals we've had is that we're not going to push the problem somewhere else," interim City Manager David Corliss said. "We've been insistent on that from the beginning."
Those assurances seemed to be enough for commissioners. Most were praising the plan as a solution to a problem that had created cries of outrage from the development community, which felt the city was not providing a basic service that it previously had committed to provide. The issue ultimately played a role in the forced resignation of longtime city manager Mike Wildgen.
"This really does prove that when you get the major stakeholders at the table and ask them to look for solutions that we're still a community of great minds that can come together and work together," City Commissioner Sue Hack said.
Trafficway should avoid wetlands, leaders say
The Lawrence City Commission will submit an official comment urging federal highway leaders to consider choosing a route for the uncompleted South Lawrence Trafficway that doesn't run through the Baker Wetlands.
Three of the five members on the commission - Boog Highberger, Mike Rundle and David Schauner - said they had concerns about the social and cultural harm a road through the wetlands would create.
"I think we would like to find a solution where nobody feels they are a loser, and I think that is possible," Rundle said.
The Federal Highway Administration is accepting written comments on the trafficway project through May 31. The road - which would connect Interstate 70 west of Lawrence with Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence - must receive approval from the administration to receive federal funding.
Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Sue Hack expressed opposition to submitting official comment, in part, because they said a 32nd Street route already had been thoroughly studied and approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
City to weigh options for historic fire station
City commissioners aren't ready to sell a historic fire station to a Lawrence resident who wants to convert it into his home.
Commissioners said they wanted staff members to take a harder look at whether old Fire Station No. 2 at 1839 Mass. could be used for some type of city government function.
Lawrence resident Matt Henderson submitted a proposal to buy the early 1900s brick structure for $128,500 and convert it into his personal residence. But commissioners said the price seemed low to them and that they weren't ready to part with what has become an iconic building in the community.
Commissioners also received proposals from three other individuals interested in converting the building into living space, but those proposals were submitted after a February deadline.
Staff members will bring a report back in six months detailing possible city uses for the building.
If staff members haven't identified a suitable use in six months, commissioners said they might reopen negotiations with Henderson.