GR Council Votes 6-1 to Request $10M Loan Increase for Wastewater Plant

GR Council Votes 6-1 to Request $10M Loan Increase for Wastewater Plant

This is a graphic of the Wastewater Treatment Plant replacement facility. Photo courtesy of City of Green River

GREEN RIVER — The Green River City Council voted 6-1 last week authorizing the city to seek a $10 million loan increase to put toward the Wastewater Treatment Plant Facility Project. 

Councilmember Ron Williams was the one vote against. Currently, the city has roughly $45 million worth of loans and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. If they are approved for a $10 million increase to the city’s current Clean Water SRF (CWSRF) loan from the State Land and Investment Board (SLIB), the city would have all the funds needed to start and complete the project. 

“Ideally we’d be able to award a contract here this spring and start construction this summer for completion in 2025,” Public Works Director Mark Westenskow said. 

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About the Project

The current wastewater treatment plant was originally built in 1962 and was upgraded in 1989. It is made up of 40 acres of lagoons. 

“We have been working for several years to replace the wastewater treatment plant with a new mechanical plant that would take up a much smaller footprint,” Westenskow said. 

The new plant would not only be smaller, but more efficient, he said. When Council Member Williams questioned whether the city had looked at all the possible options for wastewater treatment facility replacements, Westenskow said that the one they have selected fits the city’s necessary criteria. 

“There are a number of different technologies. One of the things when we started this process was we wanted a technology that was going to be safe, secure, and proven,” Westenskow said. 

The plant would consist of an administration building, a headworks building where the screening would happen, oxidation ditches where the treatment would occur, followed by clarifiers and a digester, before discharging out to the river using the existing discharge location. 

This graphic shows the current wastewater treatment plant compared to the proposed replacement facility. The red box on the left side of the image is the new plant. Photo courtesy of City of Green River

The timeline for this project started in 2014 when the master plan was initiated. That was completed in 2015. Then in 2018, $30 million in loans was obtained. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and supply-chain shortages, the original estimated $30 million project increased to over $50 million. 

Bids were received and rejected due to being over budget in 2021, and an additional $13.7 million in loans and ARPA grants were obtained by the city in 2022. The project went back out to bid, and the bids received in 2023 were again over budget. 

“To be honest with you, when we opened the bids I was mad. No one was more upset than I was,” Westenskow told the Council. 

He said he wanted to throw all the bids out and start over again. However, he stopped and thought about it and that is what led to the decision to try to increase the CWSRF loan by $10 million. This would give the city $53.7 million in available funds, which would cover the 2023 bid range of $48 million to $53 million.

“Time is not our friend as far as cost is concerned. This will not cost less if we do a different path and take extra time to do that,” Westenskow said. 

Not only would the construction costs increase, but he said they would not get the same interest rate if they delayed the project further. The initial interest rate in 2019 was 2.5 percent. However, that was restructured and decreased in 2021 and is now at 0.5 percent.

Council Member Robert Berg asked what the city’s chances are of getting approved for the loan increase, and what the city will do if they don’t get the requested loan. 

“I think the chances of us getting approved are very very good,” Westenskow said. “We’re early. We’re in front of all that infrastructure bill stuff. So we have an opportunity to move something forward now that frankly will not be cheaper later.” 

He added that if the funding is not approved, the city would have to reject the bids and look for more funding elsewhere.

“This is how wastewater projects are funded for communities our size. There are certain criteria that if you’re a disadvantaged community, you can be eligible for grants. Communities under 10,000 people are eligible for USDA grants. We’re not under 10,000 people. Communities with a low median household income are eligible for principal forgiveness. We’re not,” Westenskow said. 

Rate Increases for Residents

Residents who have been keeping an eye on their wastewater bills may have noticed a steady increase over the past few years. A NewGen study was done in 2017 that gave estimates of what rates for residents would need to be to cover the cost of the project. 

In 2017, the project cost was $30 million and the annual median household income (AMHI) was $73,225. One percent of that worked out to be $61 per household per month for sewer. In 2023, the project cost is $54 million, and the AMHI is $82,173. At one percent, this works out to be $68 per month for sewer. 

Below is a graphic that shows how the average resident’s wastewater bill would look through 2027 for both 675 cubic feet and 1,000 cubic feet of wastewater generated. Wastewater is determined by tracking water usage in the winter months, which is when the city can assume that the water a household is using is mostly wastewater since people are not using water to water lawns, for example. 

This graph shows how wastewater rates will increase over the next several years. Photo courtesy of City of Green River

Westenskow said that in 2017 they went from a straight wastewater rate where everyone paid the same to a consumption/demand rate, where there is a base rate plus an additional consumption rate. If a household uses more than the community’s average wastewater usage, then they will have an additional cost according to their usage. 

“Not everyone’s rate is the same anymore,” he said. 

He added that communities with “hardship rates” get grants, while communities with “affordable rates” get loans. 

“According to the EPA, they define affordability as, if your sewer only rate is less than one percent of your annual median household income (AMHI),” Westenskow said.

Rates are not a hardship unless your rates are over two percent of the AMHI. The graphic below shows the projected wastewater usage rates through Fiscal Year 2032 in comparison to the sewer only rates of 1 percent and 2 percent of the AMHI. According to the projections, Green River’s rates will be defined as affordable for the foreseeable future. This means Green River will not be eligible for grants, but rather will have to continue to seek loans.

The bottom blue line is the base rate. The top green line is the 2 percent AMHI rate, and the middle red line is the 1 percent AMHI rate. The other lines indicate the rates based on usage, which are all lower than the 2 percent AMHI rate. Photo courtesy of City of Green River

Council and Resident Comments

Council Member Williams said he didn’t want to put the burden of rate increases and several decade long loans onto the residents. 

“I don’t want to throw something down to the guy making $14 to $15 an hour saying, ‘sorry guy, you’re going to be paying $80 more a month, sorry, budget it’. I don’t want to be paying for a loan in 30 years which I’ll never see it paid off. And I don’t want to put this upon my great-grandkids,” Williams said. 

However, Council Members Gary Killpack and Sherry Bushman both spoke in favor of seeking a loan increase due to the possibility of the project costing more later on. 

“If we kick the can down the road for a couple years and then they come back to us and say, ‘well you’ve got the money but it’s going to be two percent [interest rate],’ we’re in trouble,” Killpack said. 

“Time is not of the essence and it’s going to get worse,” Bushman said. “…We either do it now or we’re going to be suffering more later down the road.” 

Green River resident Steve Core said during public comment that the council 40 years ago didn’t think about what needed to happen 40 years down the road. He believes that is how the city has ended up in the position they’re in now. 

“Your rates that you’re paying, some of that’s going into, I would hope, a sinking fund to replace this facility in 40 years. I look at what the school district did with putting aside sinking funds to replace the turf fields,” Core said.

He said that because of those sinking funds, the school district will replace the field again this summer.

“I think this is a quality of life issue that you’re dealing with. This system was built in 1962, which was the year I was born. It’s been there for 60 years. You’re on a big footprint right now, you’re going to lower your footprint. You’re hopefully going to get rid of the smell,” Core said. 

The Council ultimately voted 6-1 to authorize the city to request a loan increase of $10 million.