City Councilors put the brakes on new construction and development in two-thirds of the city at their July 23 meeting, giving staff 12 months to find a solution to a major sewer line problem. “Our …
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City Councilors put the brakes on new construction and development in two-thirds of the city at their July 23 meeting, giving staff 12 months to find a solution to a major sewer line problem.
“Our intent as a city is to fix the problem as soon as we can,” Mayor Herb Atchison said. “But we all understand that we want to do it once and not have to do it again in five years. I think that’s the important thing.”
Councilors voted 6-0 at their July 23 meeting to halt new development projects in the area served by the Big Dry Creek Gulch sewer line.
The moratorium covers the bulk of the city from 92nd Avenue north to 136th. The portion of Westminster west of Wadsworth Boulevard, including portions as far south as 87th Drive, would be included, as well.
The portion of the city east of Huron would not be included in the moratorium.
The moratorium is meant to give Westminster’s top municipal engineers and public utilities consultants time to figure out a way to fix a capacity problem on the 22-mile long sewer line. Councilors cautioned that it could a long project and potentially expensive but one the city needs to do.
“Our city needs to be in a position where we can be responsible development partners with those who want to do business here,” Councilor Shannon Bird said. “I want to do right by you and we need to have proper infrastructure to serve the work you want to do. So I’m disappointed that we are here, but I want to be a solid partner and I don’t want to let our citizens down.”
It’s a result of a 40-year-old sewer system combined with growing development, according to acting Economic Development Director Jenni Grafton. The Big Dry Creek Interceptor Sewer was built in the 1970s and needs to replaced and repaired.
A 2012 study all of Westminster’s sewer lines made that clear, according to Max Kirschbaum, director of Public Works and Utilities. The Dry Creek system found to be in better shape than the city’s Little Dry Creek system that serves the older parts of the city, south of 92nd Avenue. The city has spent more than $26 million since then repair the Little Dry Creek system.
“But it was understood that the Big Dry Creek sewer would hold and continue to be studied and monitored going forward from that time,” Kirshbaum said.
Plans called for delaying repairs of about $30 million in 2022 and 2023.
Recent studies said that would be too long, however.
Sewage flows along the pipe, which serves the area between Standley Lake and the city’s treatment facility at 132nd and Huron, have increased almost by half since 2008.
“We are already posing a risk that we could exceed the acceptable risk for a sanitary sewer overflow,” Kirshbaum said.
The system is at a failure point and the only options are to keep flows from increasing further while repairs and upgrades are fast-tracked.
The plan is to hire an outside term to study the system and design an upgrade plan. The study should take nine months to complete, which would make it finished early next spring.
At the same time, city staff engineers will meet weekly to come up with ideas designed to reduce the problem while reviewing development projects outside of the area and those that will not increase the load on the sewer system could be funded with water and sewer debt service, he said.
The moratorium will not affect projects that had applied for city permits by July 24 or projects outside of the Big Dry Creek basin, including Westminster Downtown.
Mayor Atchison warned councilors and residents to wait for study’s results.
“My caution is to all of us is to not to rush to judgment,” Atchison said. “We need to get a study done first and then we need to understand the impact of the study. And then we need to look at the designs that come out before we start making commitments to throw money at something. We don’t know what the problem is, nor do we know the resolution nor do we know the amount of money it will take.”
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