SHELLEY — Many building projects in the area are in limbo due to people being unable to connect to a sewer system, so contractors, builders and community members are expressing their concerns and frustration.
A crowded meeting on Thursday lasted a little over three hours in Shelley City Hall, came after a local board decided that a curtail would remain in effect for at least the next two weeks, which means new connections to a wastewater system cannot be added.
The curtailment went into place on June 16 by the Eastern Idaho Regional Waste Water Authority (EIRWWA).
The EIRWWA board at the time said it provides sewage treatment service to customers in its service area, which includes Shelley and portions of Ammon, Bonneville County, and Bingham County. EIRWWA’s Oxbow Treatment Plant is west of Shelley on the banks of the Snake River.
At first, the city of Ammon was not going to issue any building permits.
But within a week or so from the time of the curtailment, Micah Austin, Ammon City administrator, said the city started accepting building permit applications again but with a release-of-liability agreement that needs to be signed.
“That release of liability truly does release the city of Ammon of any liability concerning a project. The people moving forward on that are acknowledging that they do not have a sewer permit … and they are proceeding at their own risk,” Austin said to EastIdahoNews.com.
Stacy Pascoe, the city of Shelley mayor, told EastIdahoNews.com the city is looking into ways where people can keep moving forward with building.
However, the curtailment has been modified as of Thursday for failed septic tanks.
“We have some failed septics out in the county that are within 300 feet of the line, and as a Department of Environmental Quality requirement, as a state statute (says) that if you have (a) failed septic system and you are within 300 feet of a sewer line that goes to a plant, you are required to connect and we have some of those,” said Brian Powell, president of the Eastern Idaho Regional Sewer District.
New board members sworn in
It’s a difficult task now, especially since as of Thursday, EIRWWA is no more, and now a new board with new members has been formed as the Eastern Idaho Regional Sewer District (EIRSD) due to voting for a sewer district during the election in May.
Five new board members were sworn in on Thursday during the meeting to take over the curtailment that EIRWWA set in place. The board includes Powell, Craig Tibbitts, Brad Higley, Frank Lemmo and Craig Cutler.
The new board did not have a chance to meet before Thursday’s meeting.
The capacity issues
One of the most notable reasons the original board (EIRWWA) curtailed connections is because of what happened to the plant on Feb. 14 when it got an illegal discharge of wastewater containing certain chemicals that impacted the treatment process.
At Thursday’s meeting, Powell said a silicone-based lubricant of about 2,000 gallons was dumped down a drain and impacted the plant. It reduced the capacity at the plant by 20 to 30 percent.
“I really apologize for the situation we are in. My frustration — and I would call it anger — is that the individual or corporation that put that silicon lubricant down the drain … took our capacity away. Had that not happened, I don’t think (we) would be here today having this discussion,” said Powell.
Bingham County Prosecutor Paul Rogers, like many others, questioned if anyone knew who had dumped the substance.
“Do we know if this was intentional? Let me know. I am the prosecutor of Bingham County,” Rogers said.
Powell told EastIdahoNews.com there is a $10,000 reward for information leading up to who may have dumped the substance into the plant. He said anyone can contact elected officials in Shelley or in Ammon about it as well as the EIRSD board if there is any information.
An expansion plan and what’s next
“I took my life savings to purchase that lot, and I am scared.”
Plans are in place to expand the plant, which would increase capacity by building additional biological basins. This is considered the first phase. It could cost about $15 million. Powell said part of the money is coming from connection fees that people have paid in the past, American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and a DEQ grant.
The expansion could take anywhere from 12 to 18 months to complete.
One woman named Teresa Young, just like many others at the meeting, expressed her concerns when she had bought a lot back in February at Country Club Hills. Her lot has been sitting around after the curtailment was put in place.
“I took my life savings to purchase that lot, and I am scared. I am so scared. I am ready to back out of all of it. I can’t wait 18 months to have a home built. I honestly believed when I bought that lot in February, ‘This is perfect.’ I’m out about $40,000,” she said.
Others expressed similar concerns.
“We are starting a project on the 113 exit for Eaton Towing, and we don’t have a permit (for a connection) yet. … Is there a waiting list? We’ve already got money invested,” said a representative from Eaton Towing.
“I have owned my lot for over a year. Health issues stopped me from building last year. I am ready to build now,“ said Nelson Milton, a resident in the area.
Milton, like others, wants there to be an order as to who gets the capacity first and wants it to be a fair process.
Powell said the board will discuss the questions and issues in the next two weeks and hopefully have some answers.
For now, a meeting is set in place for Aug. 16 at 9 a.m. at Shelley City Hall.