It is the crisis that quietly faded away.
This spring, angst at City Hall was full-bore as developers and others clamored that poor planning had created major sewer problems in the city's northwest.
The controversy - a contributing factor in the forced resignation of longtime City Manager Mike Wildgen - stemmed from the belief that that the sewer problems would seriously damage the lucrative home-building industry.
But now, just six months later, all is quiet on the sewage front. But that doesn't mean the price of peace has been cheap.
City commissioners at their meeting tonight are expected to undertake their most expensive step yet to fix the northwest sewer system by approving a $9.8 million contract to build a new pump station to serve the area and its expected growth.
The pump station - which will be just south of the Kansas Turnpike near East 1100 Road - is in addition to a $2.5 million project to enlarge sewer pipes near Lake Alvamar in western Lawrence, and an approximately $1.5 million expansion of a key pump station near Sixth and Kentucky streets. All three projects were part of a plan announced by city staff members in April to erase questions about whether the sewer system could accommodate future northwest development.
"I'm pleased with the progress we're making on the issue," said City Manager David Corliss. "One of the key things that is important to me is that the public has confidence in its infrastructure."
The City Commission tonight is expected to begin the process of buying property for a new $80 million sewer plant to be built along the Wakarusa River. The proposed site is bounded on the north and east by the Wakarusa River and Coal Creek, on the west by East 1600 Road, and would have a southern boundary between North 1175 and North 1100 roads. City commissioners at their meeting tonight are scheduled to approve a $19,200 purchase of eight acres of vacant farmland and timber at the east end of North 1175 Road from Michael and Lisa Coyne. The purchase would be the first made by the city for the new plant, which is scheduled to be operational in 2010. The city will need to acquire about 500 acres for the plant. A new report estimates that all the property in the area has a value of about $2,400 per acre.
The development community, which was in a frenzy in March and April, also seems to be pleased.
"We have not heard a lot of negative opinion from the development community," said Lavern Squier, president and chief executive of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. "It appears the city is taking a good, proactive course. Our hope is that we just maintain this aggressiveness."
Whether the general public will be in a good mood about the projects is yet to be seen - the total cost to the public for the sewer projects isn't known yet. The city is paying the entire $4 million in costs for the expansion of the Kentucky Street pump station and the enlargement of the west Lawrence sewer pipes. But the costs of the $9.8 million northwest pump station will be shared between the city and developers who need the project to support additional residential and commercial developments.
Corliss said developers will pay more than 50 percent of the costs of the pump station, but the exact percentage hasn't been determined.
The cost-sharing, he said, will be determined using a formula based on what percentage of the pump station's capacity will be used for sewage from new development versus sewage from existing development rerouted to the station to improve system efficiency.
But city staff members are sticking to earlier projections that sewer rates will not have to increase any more than already planned to pay for the trio of projects. Assistant City Manager Debbie Van Saun said the city should be able to absorb the costs without an additional rate increase because none of the projects came as complete surprises to the city.
All the projects were on the city's list of planned capital improvements, though most weren't scheduled for completion until 2010 or after. Van Saun said city staff members recently were able to more closely evaluate the sewer system needs and now feel comfortable moving the projects up, while eliminating or delaying other projects. For example, Van Saun said the city can eliminate plans for a $4.1 million sewer line project along Peterson Road in 2008 because the new lines for the pump station will be able to carry the expected load in the area. The new pump station also will allow the city to eliminate two smaller existing pump stations in the area, reducing the city's electrical and operational costs.
The city, as part of its budgeting process this summer, approved a rate increase of about 9 percent for 2007. That rate increase had long been planned to help pay for an approximately $80 million sewage treatment plant that will be built along the Wakarusa River. That plant is scheduled to open in 2010.