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Building permits put on hold after waste water authority curtails connections

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AMMON — Building permits in some parts of Bonneville and Bingham counties are no longer being issued due to a moratorium placed on new sewer connections by the Eastern Idaho Regional Waste Water Authority (EIRWWA).

Andrea Jardine, a real estate agent and builder, told EastIdahoNews.com she owns a lot in the Brogan Creek subdivision for her personal home with her husband in Ammon. She said she was about to get permits for the home when suddenly she was denied.

“Someone gave us a heads up that EIRWWA met Thursday morning last week and decided no more (sewer) hookups, and they didn’t really communicate to anybody,” she said. “When we called the city of Ammon and said, ‘OK, we are ready to put in for permits,’ they said, ‘Yeah, we are not issuing any more building permits.'”

EIRWWA provides sewage treatment service to customers in its service area, which includes the city of Shelley, portions of the city of Ammon, Bonneville County, and Bingham County. EIRWWA’s Oxbow Treatment Plant is west of Shelley on the banks of the Snake River.

On June 16, a moratorium was put into place on any new connections to the wastewater system within EIRWWA’s service areas.

The decision to enact a moratorium came after the EIRWWA managing board reviewed data at the treatment plant and determined that the plant was almost at its capacity to handle wastewater.

“To protect the integrity of the plant and maintain adequate treatment, the board took action to curtail adding further connections to the system that have not already been approved by EIRWWA,” the board said in a statement Wednesday.

EIRWWA cited three factors in its decision.

One is the recent high growth and demand for connections in EIRWWA’s service area. The statement said that the strength of the wastewater entering the plant has increased significantly.

“In previous years, approximately 100 to 300 connections have been added to EIRWWA each year. However, EIRWWA currently has approximately 500 connections approved, which will likely be added in the next year, with more being requested each month,” the statement said.

Second is what happened to the plant on Feb. 14 this year when it got an illegal discharge of wastewater containing chemicals which impacted the treatment process. Their treatment process is still compromised.

The third is the lack of funding to increase the plant’s capacity. According to the statement, EIRWWA completed a study in 2018 that identified upgrades that needed to occur. The upgrade project is currently estimated to cost $35 million.

EIRWWA said in its statement that it is seeking funding for a plant expansion.

Read EIRWWA’s full statement.

In the meantime, builders seeking new permits within EIRWWA’s coverage area may be out of luck.

“With this moratorium, we are not in a position to issue any building permits … within the EIRWWA sewer district until the moratorium is lifted,” said Ammon Planning and Zoning Director Cindy Donovan in an email. “We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause and are hoping that the EIRWWA board will be able to make new connections available in the near future.”

Micah Austin, Ammon city administrator, said that it’s been several months, if not years, that the EIRWWA board has been telling cities that the capacity at the sewer plant is filling up, and that if the capacity was not addressed, it would have to eventually curtail new connections.

“This is not a city of Ammon decision,” he said. “We have known this was coming for a long time, and we have been advising developers to pay for their permits in advance and to avoid being cut off.”

He emphasized this was EIRWWA’s choice.

“We have a lot of people that are really upset with the city but I would just like them to know this is not the city’s decision,” he said. “We want to work with them, and we want to help them through the process.”

According to EIRWWA, the curtailment of connections does not apply to homes that have already received approval to connect to EIRWWA and may already be under construction.

EIRWWA will hold a public meeting on Aug. 4 at 9 a.m. at Shelley City Hall City Council Chambers, and many within EIRWWA’s service area hope the moratorium will be lifted then.

“I am hoping for the best outcome,” said Shelley Mayor Stacy Pascoe. “We have three subdivisions going right now that are in the city, so it is going to affect them. Some of them have pre-bought their connections already so those won’t be affected at all. But if they haven’t pre-bought them, then they will be affected.”

He said growth is booming in the area.

“We have just over 700 single-family dwellings approved. Some are townhomes and some are houses, but just over 700. It’s going to affect the city,” he said.

EIRWWA officials said it is actively evaluating short-term measures to optimize the operation of the plant and add temporary infrastructure to increase capacity until the full upgrades can be completed.

As for Jardine, she now has an empty lot sitting and waiting for a building permit. She has no idea how long she’ll have to wait.

“This could take years. This could take 18 to 24 months to fix this problem,” she said. “There are a lot of other builders that are in way worse situations than us. We luckily only have one lot but there are builders that moved up from Utah that have 15 to 20 lots — some of them more than that.”

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