The town of Star Valley is at a crossroads. In order to expand its economic base, it needs a sewage system that can handle hotels, restaurants and shopping.
However, it will likely cost $40 million to construct a system, according to engineers.
If the town doesn’t build a system, it risks contaminating its wells when septic systems fail, according to water resource researchers.
In late November, Garrett Goldman, engineering director with Tetra Tech, discussed the town’s other major concern besides water — sewage.
Goldman is working on the town’s sanitary sewer master plan. For the past several months, he has met with the water and sewer commission and discussed locations of a treatment plant, its design and cost and feasibility of a townwide sewer hookup.
According to Goldman, a sewer system would cost $40.7 million, including $8 million for a wastewater treatment plant, $10.6 million for a trunk collection system and another $22 million for piping throughout town.
Per acre, the cost is roughly $13,000. Per homeowner, the cost is unknown.
“Not at this point can you put a per capita cost on this thing,” he said. This is more of a “order of magnitude number. The town needs to know what are the alternatives and what are the magnitude of these alternatives.”
Cost per homeowner will depend on a host of variables, including what funding sources the town uses, the number of homes that connect and construction fees.
“This (study) is a preliminary step in the process,” he said. “Like from an airplane, we have a good view of the project, but as things progress we will lower the the altitude and see more.”
“And we don’t even know if this thing will go or not.”
“If you are going to do this, it is a community decision,” Goldman said. “You are always going to have those that don’t want it.”
If the town garners enough support and goes ahead with the plan, Goldman suggested building the system in sizeable chunks, instead of building it all at once. This would stretch the cost out over years, possibly decades.
“There is a simple phasing plan that would make sense for Star Valley,” he said.
The first phase of construction would include constructing the first part of the wastewater treatment plant near where Stuart Creek and Houston Creek convolute. This area is roughly half a mile south of where Moonlight Drive ends.
The exact area for a treatment plant has not been decided and there are several other locations the committee is considering, Goldman said.
From the treatment plant, crews would construct a trunk line along Houston Creek to Highway 260. Neighborhoods on either side of Moonlight Drive could connect to the trunk line as well as businesses along Highway 260.
The area around Moonlight Drive is one of the most populated areas above and below ground in Star Valley. Each homeowner is on an individual well and septic system. If and when one of these septic systems fails, it could affect several water supplies. Connecting these homes to a central system would “greatly reduce the risk of contamination in Houston Creek and the wells,” Goldman said.
Star Valley’s water and sewer commission chairman Vern Leis added that a sewer system is the “primary way to protect the water we have.”
The line would continue from Highway 260 around the backside of the meadow and eventually connect with homeowners on the north side of the highway.
“With this, you get the biggest bang for your buck,” Goldman said. “You get the most number of users and you get the sewer in areas where there is community growth.”
Goldman did not know how many users would initially connect with this section of piping.
In phase two, crews would construct a line from Highway 260 to homeowners on the north side of the road, including the Lamplighter RV Park, and beef up the wastewater treatment plant.
Phase three would involve stretching the line out to homes east of the business district, such as Diamond Point Shadows.
“Phase one is the most expensive, with the plant and the biggest pipes,” Goldman said.
On the issue of cost, Goldman said, “there are funds available.”
The town could consider a low-interest loan from the Greater Arizona Development Association (GADA), a loan or grant from the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA), a loan or grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a loan from the Rural Community Assistance Corporation and congressional earmarks.
The likelihood of the town floating a multi-million-dollar bond is unlikely, Leis added.
At his next presentation with the committee in January, Goldman plans to discuss public/private partnerships for funding, as well as cost estimates for the phasing options.
Besides sewage, Star Valley has big plans in the pipeline for water.
Ask Leis what he is working on and a twinkle lights up his eyes and he coyly tells you it’s big, but he’s not ready to share the details just yet.
Fresh from a tour of the Blue Ridge Reservoir, one can only surmise it has to do with water.
At a recent water and sewer meeting, Leis and other councilors discussed getting their share of the pipeline’s flow and possibly leveraging it against Payson for the Tower Well.
Although it is too soon to know what share Star Valley will get out of the 500 acre-feet available for small outlying communities, it is something the town is actively pursuing.