$11 million potential RL stormwater project will raise rates

By Eleanor Guerrero
Thursday, June 7, 2018

Courtesy photo

Map showing proposed project areas in Red Lodge needing crucial upgrades and improvements to the stormwater system.

Photo by Eleanor Guerrero

Proposed stormwater project manager Brandon Duffey of Great Western Engineering, presents the concept and cost of replacing and upgrading all necessary stormwater drains for the City of Red Lodge.

The City of Red Lodge revealed the Environmental Assessment (EA) for a potential and crucial major public works project to replace extremely aged and cracked stormwater pipes (including some of the original city clay pipes) on Thursday evening, May 31, at a public hearing.

The city would end up with larger pipes and a more capable system that is more able to handle flooding, would improve surface drainage, place less load on the existing system and redirect water not suited for the sewer.

The bad news? The enormous project will total about $11 million dollars and raise water/sewer rates by $4 to $7 a month or more.

The good news? “It can be handled in phases,” summed up Great West Engineering (GW) Project Manager Jeremiah Theys to the City Council members present. Theys said thanks to the efforts of various City employees they lowered the total from its original $13 million cost.

Less than a handful of the public attended the required EA public meeting which was also open to public comment. In the presentation and handout, alternatives were given including no action. But no other alternative alone relieved the whole challenge which primarily consists of replacing aged and insufficient small pipes and separating storm water runoff from sewer water.

The first phase would cost about $2.6 million dollars. Various funding possibilities were explored. GW suggested it might best be handled by a TSEP (Treasure State Endowment Program) Grant ($500,000) and a low interest federal RD (Rural Development) loan of $2.1 million (of which potentially 25 percent may be “forgiven”).

Brandon Duffey, GW Project Manager made the EA presentation. He said the preliminary assessment found no major issues with the EA as described or expected regarding pollution, historical issues, etc. since it mostly consists of replacing old pipes not extending to new areas, although it was admitted there was not a total inventory of the system at this point and “surprises” such as a historical issue or a contaminated leak were not out of the question as the project proceeded. As a result said Duffey, “Our recommendation is that an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) is not required.”

Duffey and Theys then went on to reveal the results of the completed Preliminary Engineering Report (PER).

The PER explained that in at least five major areas of town and possibly a sixth up at Diamond C Estates (at the Golf Course), stormwater may be improperly piped to the sewer lines or “cross connected.”

Theys said they understood the pipes “were a priority project for Red Lodge for a long time.” He suggested the city think of it in terms of a Capital Improvement Growth Policy project and noted it was positive that the study found Red Lodge’s population is growing.

The stormwater should not connect with the sewer. It is not only a Department of Environmental Quality requirement, it overloads the lift station at the north end of town. The inadequately sized piping situation throughout the city could result in situations like Helena said Theys where “stormwater is blowing up four feet from a blown cap.” He said already a manhole has spewed water. “Imagine if a hole blows. "It’s a huge concern. It creates liability (and hazard)-imagine walking in a heavy rainstorm and there’s an open drain hole. It can block up," he said. “On May 22, we recorded one to one and a half inches of rain” in Red Lodge. The new guidelines would expect a “ten year event” (happening at least once in ten years) lasting for 24 hours and the pipes could handle it. Such a plan is “feasible and conservative.” The new system “will handle 90 percent of spring rains,” etc.

This replacement will not add to Rock Creek and will also lower the amount being treated.

Most of the town drains into the storm drains and then the sewer drains at the Hagen outfall.

Although Montana Department of Transportation put in many new storm drains when they completed the recent road project from 8th St. to Beartooth Electric Cooperative, Inc.’s property, there is much more to be done.

Phase One would replace all the drains in the eastern area of downtown (6th st. to 8th St and Platt to Broadway; 5th St. to 8th St. and Hauser to Word). Those first two sections will receive new storm infrastructure and Hauser to Word will get replacement of the existing main and add additional inlets. Most significantly Phase One will replace the existing undersized main at Haggin Outfall to 6th St. (which is 24” and 18” PVC or Clay pipe) with 42”, 48” and 54” PVC or HDPE and add additional inlets. It would also investigate the possibility of cross connections up at Diamond C Estates.

“This (first phase system) could last for 20-30 years,” said Theys. “It is your foundation” since this area (Haggin Outfall) serves as the drain for most of the stormwater coming through pipes in town and will lighten the load formerly all going to the sewer.

The next of the suggested four phases could be put off for 5-10 years if necessary, to raise and save funds, to pay down the new loan, etc. Theys also suggested that rates could even go up $10/month to put some funds in reserve for future projects. “There is a lot to be discussed.”

The funding for the TSEP grant is biennial so the leglislature would have to get the application by June 15.

For this project to go forward, City Council would have to have a meeting on June 12. By resolution it would accept the TSEP Grant Application, accept the EA, and accept the PER.

Even so, funding notice from TSEP would be expected by July, 2019 for TSEP. Only then can the city apply for the RD loan. Plan design would take place from Fall 2019- to Spring, 2020. Construction could not begin until summer, 2020, and would continue through Fall, 2020. The cycle could then be repeated for each phase.

As far as how increases to property owners for these improvements will work Theys said, “That has yet to be determined.” Theys suggested a Special District but where and how much monthly bills would be increased to cover the costs of stormwater improvements is yet open. They haven’t run the numbers for phase based districts or whether the district must be larger. “We just developed the project cost and some funding sources.” The next step is “We will be working over the next six months with the community on how to assess the costs.”

The entire map showing the projects are on the city’s website online as are the EA and the PER under Public Works, water, Sewage and Stormwater.

Public comment is still open.

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Upcoming Events

  • Monday, August 20, 2018 - 7:00pm
    Joliet Group meets at the Community Center Monday at 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, August 23, 2018 - 7:00pm
    Meets every Thursday, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, 122 S. Hauser. It is open to all. 425- 1755.
  • Thursday, August 23, 2018 - 7:00pm
    Clarks Fork Group meets at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hall, north end of Montana Avenue, Thursday at 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, August 25, 2018 - 10:00am
    An Overeaters Anonymous group will meet every Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Grace Fellowship Church, Absarokee.
  • Monday, August 27, 2018 - 7:00pm
    Joliet Group meets at the Community Center Monday at 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, August 30, 2018 - 7:00pm
    Meets every Thursday, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, 122 S. Hauser. It is open to all. 425- 1755.

The Carbon County News

Street Address:

11 N. Broadway, Red Lodge, MT 59068

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P.O. Box 970, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Phone: 406-446-2222

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