Jackson sewer board scrambles to upgrade system

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, June 22, 2022

JACKSON – Jackson water and sewer district officials expressed frustration last week over the lack of urgency and support they received from Beaverhead County and its engineers for a much-needed upgrade of the district’s sewer system.

The Jackson Water and Sewer board met June 16. The sewer upgrade would expand capacity and improve the overall system for the future. WWC officials provided a rough estimate of $550,000 to do all the work when it met with officials in January. County officials said they would be willing to offer some of its American Rescue Plan (ARPA) dollars to cover a quarter of the match money needed, but the district had to come up with the other quarter – roughly $130,000.

“I’ve expressed some concerns at the last meeting about the support level we’re receiving,” board member and liaison Rick Harwood said of WWC, the company responsible for design and engineering. “The good news is the grant application is completed. That’s a big step.”

The bad news was the application did not include the estimated cost to do the engineering design. Their estimate: $45,000.

“I said OK, you understand we’re little and we’re broke. They said you could probably get a loan; 62% of our district is below the poverty level. We owe about $57,000. We can’t service the existing debt – we need a better idea,” Harwood said.

The engineers said the Department of Commerce’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program could give them the match needed. Harwood noted that the grant program helped the district with its recent water project, drilling new wells due to the level of arsenic in the water source. He added he figured they would not be able to get that again, since it was a relatively recent award.

The big problem is getting the money in the first place. Clerk Frances Strodtman-Royer said the company wants that design money up front, and the district cannot provide that.

“They said we’ll get the money back once the ARPA grant is awarded. Well, that sounds fantastic, but how do we come up with the money now? And how long before we get that back? The commissioners say until we get stamped drawings, we’re not getting anything.”

The soonest work would begin on the system is summer 2024, Harwood said. In the meantime, the board is attempting to maintain the system with what little money it does have.

“How do we get this done sooner?” board member Laine Johnson asked.

“There have been several articles in the local paper about the sense of urgency,” Harwood said. “I don’t know what more we can do to let them (the commissioners) know that this is huge.”

Harwood noted the district is its own separate entity from the county, and it is supposed to handle its issues. Board President Bob Nelson said the county would have to face a failed sewer system if this process does not speed up.

“We need to say to them ‘this gets done, or it’s going to be your problem,” Nelson said.

In other action, the board and Jackson resident Jacqui Brissette agreed to split the cost to “scope” her sewer line, up to a total of $700. Brissette said she received a quote from Rocky Mountain Drain Rescue; other plumbers could either not be reached or could not provide an estimate.

Brissette has complained of sewage backups into her home, and believed it was the sewer district’s responsibility to fix it; they disagreed. The plumbers will scope the line and provide a written report detailing what is wrong and what needs fixing.