The Northern Gila County Sanitary District board got a first look at a $16 million, phased-in plan to more than double its operating capacity to accommodate a Payson population of some 38,000.
The first phase of the plan will cost nearly $9 million, taking a big chunk of the roughly $16 million the wastewater treatment district has accumulated from property taxes and impact fees in the past decade.
“We’re in really good shape,” District Manager Joel Goode told the newly constituted board last week, which included Shirley Dye — elected on a platform sharply critical of the district’s impact fees. “We’re financially sound.”
The expansion takes into account Payson’s current growth plans — but not the needs of a possible 6,000-student college or needs of communities outside the district like Star Valley.
Goode said that the district’s sewage treatment plan sometimes reaches 80 percent of capacity for its current service area, which according to state regulations requires the district to increase its capacity.
“We don’t want to be a stumbling block for someone” when it comes time to approve new developments, said Goode.
The district operates an advanced system that uses microorganisms rather than chemicals to process sewage and wastewater, mostly collected from Payson homes. The system relies on a series of giant tanks where blasts of air from huge blowers keep conditions just right for the bacteria that turn sewage into a combination of sludge and reclaimed water.
The sludge goes to a landfill in the Valley, since the district hasn’t found any farmers or other customers that could use the tons of potential fertilizer. The reclaimed water goes to the Green Valley Park Lakes and eventually back down into the water table. The district also sells irrigation water to customers like the local golf courses.
On an average day, the plant processes about 1.3 million gallons of wastewater, but it can handle up to 2.2 million gallons of sewage and another 7 million gallons a day of storm water — which strained the system in the recent storms.
The district’s engineers estimate that they’ll need to handle 3.5 million gallons of sewage a day and peak storm flows through the system of 12 million gallons once Payson reaches its General Plan build-out population of 38,000.
In response to a board member’s question, Goode noted that this estimate does not include extra capacity to handle the needs of a proposed 6,000-student campus or any of the spin-off businesses that could end up in the nearly 400-acre project envisioned by the Rim Country Educational Alliance SLE.
“As I’ve said 100 times,” said Goode, “we’ve tried to glean from those in the know about the needs of the college and they said they don’t know yet. We can’t serve a ghost we don’t know anything about.”
Goode said the plan also doesn’t take into account possible demand from Star Valley, which lies outside the sanitation district and whose residents rely almost entirely on aging septic systems. The town also gets most of its water from shallow, private wells, a potentially troublesome combination.
Adding Star Valley would require a whole new treatment plant, since it would be expensive to pump wastewater uphill to the existing treatment plant at the end of Main Street. However, such an added system could efficiently handle some areas that require pumping now, like Chaparral Pines.
The first, $9 million phase of the expansion would increase capacity by about 1.3 million gallons per day and could start construction this year or next. It would involve a third processing tank for the initial treatment, new blowers to keep the tanks rich in oxygen the bacteria doing the cleanup need, new control systems, odor control and other improvements in the existing plant.
Sometime in the future, the district would also need to build a new, 65-foot diameter secondary sedimentation basin where the solids settle out into sludge after initial processing by the bacteria. That project would cost $3 million.
Finally, the full upgrade calls for spending $4 million on replacing existing sand filters with cloth disk filters that could handle the higher flow. In addition, the district would also replace the building that uses ultraviolet lights to kill off any remaining bacteria from the water heading to the Green Valley Lakes or the golf courses and other reclaimed water customers.
Goode noted that although the district has $16 million in the bank, that includes reserves, various special funds, money needed to repair and upgrade the network of pipes and pumps, plus the money needed for the central plant expansion. He said that impact fees all but dried up four years ago and the district has spent much of the money it had accumulated in impact fees on previous projects.
Much of the money now available for the expansion has come instead from the district’s property tax collections, which amounts to about $120 per home within the district boundaries — which extend a little beyond the town limits of Payson. The property tax brings in about $1.1 million annually. Customers pay $20 a month for a house.