Following the rejection of a $1.4 million State Revolving Fund loan application, the Rocky Mount Sewer District is at a crossroads with not only which wastewater treatment plan to pursue in the construction of a sewer system along the north shore of the Lake of the Ozarks — but more importantly, how to fund it.
The sewer district board met Wednesday, Jan. 22 to discuss the options going forward.
At the district's disposal is a $3 million grant that has an expiration date of two years. But no one seems to know when the clock began ticking on that expiration date. Board secretary Peggy Cochran estimated that the grant still has a year and a half before expiration — time left to get something off the ground in Rocky Mount or face the loss of primary funding.
The $1.4 million SRF loan — which the Missouri Department of Natural Resources rejected — in combination with the $3 million in grant money would have boosted funding for an extended-aeration treatment facility on Red Arrow Road off Route Y.
But $3 million alone would max out the budget for a treatment facility that would only serve a couple hundred residents. The Route Y location is the first in six planned phases for the sewer district.
In July 2013, homeowners in Lick Branch Cove — the effluent drainage location for the proposed facility — slapped a lawsuit against the district, claiming the facility would be a detriment to the health of the cove and safety of the residents. The Homeowners Association settled with the district, providing that no other homes outside those on phase one be connected to the treatment facility.
So with a limit placed on the number of residential and commercial hook-ups for the Route Y plan, the board is looking at more cost-effective solutions to service more customers for less money.
Engineers are exploring the costs of abandoning the extended-aeration design in favor of possibly going to a land application treatment, which would spray effluent on a plot of land like a lawn sprinkler.
Board treasurer Judy Kenworthy expressed concern about finding a level piece of property on the hilly north shore at a decent price. The land application method would require more than 100 acres of level property.
The board decided some time ago that hooking into the Gravois Arm Sewer District system was too impractical, as the RMSD would have to circumvent the Gravois Arm or bore under the lake.
Hooking into the Lake Ozark system was taken off the table in 2009 when Lake Ozark rejected extending the line to Rocky Mount.
Lake Ozark would have been required to maintain the line and rates for Rocky Mount customers would have been higher than customers inside the city limits.
Page 2 of 2 - "They're like insurance companies," Kenworthy said. "They want to get the premium, but they don't want to hear the problems."
While the board didn't reach a final decision on which plan to go with Wednesday, Chairman Red Jennings encouraged the pursuit of funding for the plan already in place — the extended-aeration plant on Route Y.
Engineers with Schultz Surveying and Engineering, the district's engineering firm, are preparing a new preliminary report to submit to the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development program in hopes of a partial grant, partial loan.
"Most everyone goes to rural development for these types of things," engineer Mike DeLong said.
The report requires several options for treatment — which so far include the nixed Lake Ozark and Gravois Arm hook-up ideas.
"Why are we beating a dead horse when we've said no?" board member Pam Bess asked.
DeLong told the board that people in charge of grants and loans want to see the options.
The district has been operating on a $508,000 loan that has now accrued interest. The district has paid $414,727.03 to Schultz and Summers Engineering, and has spent an additional $86,000 on other expenses. If the district can't get funding for a facility, it would still be on the hook for the $508,000 loan plus interest.
Even if it can get funding from the USDA, the district has a history of struggles with people in the north shore area. The board scrapped the original plan for a facility at the headwaters of Blue Spring Creek when residents on the creek organized and protested the plan. That plot of land sold in December 2013 for a little more than $17,000.
"We should have broken ground by now," Bess said.
But the Lick Branch HOA lawsuit set the district back another seven months. A resident at the meeting asked the board why they continue to push the sewer system when it's clear the residents will fight it.
"This isn't just a good idea, it's a necessity," Kenworthy said at the conclusion of the meeting. "People are in denial that their dinosaur septic system isn't doing the job it's supposed to do."
Kenworthy, a real estate agent, said she couldn't remember the last time she sold a property where the septic system passed inspection.
The district was formed by a vote in 2003. Miller County voters rejected the formation, so the sewer district is comprised of only Morgan County residents.