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Archive for Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sewer plant may go to back burner

City Commission: Population growth slowdown may delay construction

The city of Lawrence has officially embarked on one of the larger projects in its history — a new $64 million sewage treatment plant — and Lawrence residents soon will discover that the bill for it and a host of other projects is in the mail.

The city of Lawrence has officially embarked on one of the larger projects in its history — a new $64 million sewage treatment plant — and Lawrence residents soon will discover that the bill for it and a host of other projects is in the mail.

January 10, 2008

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City may wait on sewer plant

Plans for a new sewer treatment plant southeast of Lawrence may get put on hold. City leaders are working to determine the timeline for the $88 million project along the Wakarusa River. Enlarge video

It's an $88 million bet, and city leaders have to figure out when to place it. And here's the kicker: If they bet wrong, it will be the sewer bills of Lawrence residents that pay the price.

City commissioners said Wednesday that they are considering delaying - perhaps for a year to 18 months - the construction of a much talked about $88 million sewer plant for south of the Wakarusa River. Construction on the plant - slated to be the largest project ever undertaken by City Hall - was scheduled to be in full swing this year. But now, concerns over a slowdown in city population growth have commissioners thinking twice.

"We can't make a mistake on the planning of this project," City Commissioner Mike Amyx said. "We have to hit the bull's-eye on the timing of this."

If the project begins too soon, residents across the city likely would see sewer bills increase significantly - well above the 9 percent increases already projected. That's because the financial plans for the plant have assumed that the cost of the plant could be spread out over a population of 100,000 people. But now the city's growth rate has slowed to about 0.5 percent per year, according to the Census Bureau. At that rate, the city wouldn't reach 100,000 people until past 2020.

Mayor Sue Hack, though, said that doesn't mean the plant is going to be delayed for decades. Instead, she said the city is still expecting growth rates to return to their historical norms of about 2 percent per year.

Just not right away.

"I don't think there are any signals that in the immediate future - the next 18 to 36 months - that we're going to be back to that old growth rate of 2 percent or more," Hack said.

The plant, though, could take about three years to build, meaning that the most the city may feel comfortable delaying the project is 12 to 18 months, Hack said. If the city delays the project too long, the city could run out of sewer capacity and have to turn down development projects.

City Manager David Corliss said city staff would be sure to guard against that possibility. The city already has purchased the approximately 500 acres for the project - just south of where O'Connell Road dead ends at the Wakarusa River.

"We have a strong comfort level that we can proceed when the time is right," Corliss said. "We believe the plant is going to be built there. The question is when will it be built there. I'm still a strong believer in the long-term growth prospects of Lawrence."

Commissioners are expected to discuss a possible delay of the project at a meeting later this month, although a date hasn't been set yet, Corliss said. A delay is far from a done deal. Corliss said a major factor will be whether inflation in construction costs are expected to negate any financial benefits of delaying the project.

But commissioners said they also want staff members to take a hard look at the economy and ensure the city doesn't become overextended.

"In the past, Lawrence always has been a little bit of an oasis," Amyx said. "We've been able to withstand the slowdowns in the economy. But right now we need to understand that we're as impacted by this economy as anybody. We need to admit that our economy isn't much different than anybody else's right now."

If commissioners decide to delay the project, it's likely they will have to discuss future sewer rates. The city's plans call for sewer rates to increase by about 9 percent a year for the next several years to help pay for the plant. Amyx said that if the plant is delayed, or its size is reduced, sewer rates should be adjusted accordingly.

Comments

hk45 6 years, 11 months ago

They need to also think about how much delaying the project will add to it when it is finally done. How much money would a dealy of 18-24 months add to the project? I think they need to be progressive and do it now, instead of playing catch up like the city normally does.

LogicMan 6 years, 11 months ago

Well ... ending the T to fund the start of construction of this plant would be a good political tradeoff.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 11 months ago

""We can't make a mistake on the planning of this project," City Commissioner Mike Amyx said. "We have to hit the bull's-eye on the timing of this."

If the project begins too soon, residents across the city likely would see sewer bills increase significantly - well above the 9 percent increases already projected. "

Pay for it with impact fees on new development rather than making existing neighborhoods subsidize growth, and the timing becomes really simple.

Ralph Reed 6 years, 11 months ago

I agree with bozo on this one.

Development south of the river should pay for the infrastructure to support it. I don't understand why a resident in well north of the Waukarusa (some in North Lawrence) should pay for infrastructure improvements in someplace completely different.


LM -- I doubt that getting rid of the T would even begin to support the cost of the new sewer plant.


I'm me. Who are you behind your hood of anonymity?

cowboy 6 years, 11 months ago

the plant is to service lawrence volume not to enable south of the river devo as a primary goal , the biggest issue in my mind is the complete ineptness of forecasting in the city staff group. Every armchair predictor knew a couple years ago that lawrence was slowing yet they kept the projected revenue figures higher than they should have , went ahead and purchased the 534 acres for god knows what cost , probably 1.5 to 2 million. The city financial staff is woefully underqualified to manage our business.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 11 months ago

"They need to also think about how much delaying the project will add to it when it is finally done. How much money would a dealy of 18-24 months add to the project?"

Likely nothing significant. Inflation that increases construction costs has the same effect on tax receipts. The idea that delaying a project increases its "real" cost is a myth. If not, given that we are apparently heading into a recession, under that theory, delaying the project will actually "decrease" its cost.

simplyamazed 6 years, 11 months ago

Lets just hope that when they do spend the money to build the new sewer plant that they don't put stuff in it like a a charcoal filter system and spend millions only to turn it into a storage facility because they don't like the way it works. Someone needs to monitor what the money is spent on because we don't necessarily need to be the first in the USA to have some new technology and then don't use it like it was designed. Boy do they waste lots of money in that division of the city.

alfie 6 years, 11 months ago

At least they have the smarts to hold up this project. Give the city some credit to eat some crow

newsreader 6 years, 11 months ago

I agree! I live in West Lawrence, why should my tax dollars go to build roads and clear snow for residents accross the river? Keep them in my area!! (Sarcasm obviously)

Ralph Reed 6 years, 11 months ago

newsreader (Anonymous) writes:

"I agree! I live in West Lawrence, why should my tax dollars go to build roads and clear snow for residents accross the river? Keep them in my area!! (Sarcasm obviously)"


Unfortunately that is the feeling about many parts of the city. We live next to Haskell. Not sarcastically, I've asked that question many times. Why should my tax dollars pay for roads and the infrastructure necessary for the new construction in West Lawrence? We have trouble enough getting roadwork done at all in my neighborhood. The initial infrastructure costs should be the responsibility of the builders and developers, not the entire city.


alfie (Anonymous) writes:

"At least they have the smarts to hold up this project."

I agree. This was a good decision.


I'm me. Who are you behind your hood of anonymity?

thebigspoon 6 years, 11 months ago

I heard a rumor that on Sunday , January 27th there is going to be an Eagles show in Lawrence. Has anyone else heard this ?

trinity 6 years, 11 months ago

i haven't heard that spoon-but if you hear more, tell tell tell, lol!

Kontum1972 6 years, 11 months ago

cool..u read my mind...mrs. credibility..!

pace 6 years, 11 months ago

Don't use water unnecessarily, turn off faucet when you brush your teeth. If you are running water until it gets warm, catch it to water your plants. Conservation could save us millions.

LogicMan 6 years, 11 months ago

"build sewage treatment plants that also use composting to reduce toxic sludge"

Effectively, that's already done. The solids are removed, and here in Lawrence they are then "field applied" as a form of fertilizer.

Also, some plants produce dry, pelletized versions, e.g., "Ironite" or "Organite".

LogicMan 6 years, 11 months ago

"build neighborhood size / subdivision size treatment plants !"

Heck, make 'em even smaller! One for each building, and have each owner pay for the construction and maintenance.

Oh -- we have those already. They're called "septic systems".

hawklet21 6 years, 11 months ago

NOOO!!! my water bill is high enough as it is. Really high. And I know I'm not the only one.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 11 months ago

$88 million could repair streets throughout downtown, OWL,North and east Lawrence,repair sidewalks,build a $17.5 million library at 9th and New Hampshire across the street from the parking garage(saves 10 million) and help put a great public transportation system together. This is called taking care of existing resources instead of allowing them to go to hell. This provides a payback.

New development cost citizen taxpayers money. There is plenty of empty office space,light industrial space,retail space and residential that needs filling. If taxpayers cannot afford what we have why add more?

The new sewer plant will create more debt for the community because new streets,houses,fire station,public schools,additional police patrol etc etc. will follow. This sewer plant will definitely increase the Cost of Community Services across the board = higher fees and taxes. The real estate/development community are the real push behind this high dollar project aka corporate welfare.

AND the Airport Project is loaded with millions for new infrastructure such as raising the highway to act as a levee,water and sewer lines, more flood control = significant increase in Cost of Community Services.

The Dicephera deal would have cost taxpayers a lot in lost revenue as well.

Until existing resources have received the maintenance that has been ignored why add on more that when in a pinch where is the money? What Citizens are witnessing is 2 decades of bad planning/development locally and bad management by the Bush administration combined. Two peas in a pod apparently. I overheard in KCMO today that a major bank had declared the USA in a recession now.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 11 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

imopinionated2 6 years, 11 months ago

Some of you more informed blogers may know but isn't it a 'Wastewater Treatment Facility'? I thought a sewer was a pipe that carried the wastewater?

Also, I thought I understood that the main area of Lawrence where the wastewater would originate for this new plant would be everything west of Kasold, not just from south of the river. Any other info on the subject?

Richard Heckler 6 years, 11 months ago

It is NOT the duty of the taxpayer or local government to maximize profits for speculators. Otherwise taxpayers realize TAX INCREASES to cover the cost of additional demand on community services.

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