The Durango Utilities Commission called into question whether the city has fully explored relocating the wastewater-treatment plant Monday night.
Consultants estimated this fall the plant needed $55 million in upgrades. In addition, they estimated moving it could cost millions of dollars more. These improvements are need to keep up with city growth and to meet tough new regulations for water quality in the future.
The commission, an advisory board, questioned whether the consultants had over-estimated the cost of moving the plant and suggested the City Council did not want to have a public conversation about relocating it.
“This is a debate that should have happened in a public forum,” said Chris Wilbur, the chairman of the commission and a civil engineer.
Durango city councilors had been scheduled to hold a public meeting with the commission on alternative sewer plant sites twice. It was later rescheduled in February to happen behind closed doors with two councilors.
But a few commissioners said they still don’t believe options for moving the plant from Santa Rita Park to a place that would allow for long-term growth have been fully vetted.
Commissioners suggested moving the park to three different city properties. One option would be to move the plant within Santa Rita Park, the second would move it to Cundiff Park, and the third to move it to river-front property below the Durango Mall.
The sites suggested likely would prove politically unpopular for a wastewater plant because they are designated city open space, said Ron LeBlanc city manager.
The property below the Durango Mall also is in a flood plain, making it an unwise choice, Utilities Director Steve Salka said. Cundiff Park was purchased with Great Outdoors Colorado grant funds, which places restrictions on its uses, but moving it there would not be impossible, Wilbur said.
The commissioners also suggested the city look into purchasing private property for the site.
But several skeptical board members conceded purchasing property could take time, and renovating the current building is much more immediately feasible.
“This is probably the quickest, easiest path, Is it the best? I don’t know,” Wilbur said.
But he said the cost of looking into alternatives is small compared with the cost of construction.
The report of a recent effluent violation on Feb. 14 during the meeting highlighted the need for upgrades.
The plant was cited by the state for releasing too much ammonia into the river, which contributes to algae blooms.
If the plant violates regulations continuously, the state might not give the plant as much time to complete upgrades, Salka said.