Following a lengthy public hearing on a resolution to take land by purchase or eminent domain for its 2019 lagoon outfall project, the Tripoli City Council postponed a vote Monday that would have authorized the sanitary sewer project and proposed route of an outfall pipe until a work session can take place to answer one question:
“How much actual environmental damage will be done through this process?”
Councilman Ray Carlson posed the question.
The work session will be at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 18, and the council meets at 7.
The question followed presentations by landowners along the route.
First, Engineer Steve Van Dyke, of Fox Engineering in Ames, gave a brief history. The lagoon has been in operation for about 20 years and discharges into a small stream which flows into the Wapsipinicon River.
In 2016 the facility received a new discharge permit from the Department of Natural Resources which did two things: it set very low ammonia limits the facility was unable to meet throughout the year, and the wastewater had to be disinfected before it could discharge into any receiving stream.
The city hired Fox for the engineering, which presented three alternatives: one, installing a new disinfection system, a treatment system to address ammonia limits and upgrading the pump station, $5.2 million; second, upgrading the pump system and new disinfection system but pump the discharge to the Wapsipinicon River instead of the stream, thereby diluting it more and meeting limits, $2 million; or third, put in a whole new mechanical treatment plant and replace the lagoons as done in larger cities, nearly $10 million.
The council elected option two in July 2018. In December, the DNR approved the facility plan from Fox. In February, the city re-hired Fox for design. Concerns included maintenance access, consideration to not disturb the wetlands and impacting a minimal area of forest.
The proposed outfall pipe route has it cutting across the Dean Buls farm and the Garnetta Snyder Trust property, including a bike trail easement Snyder donated.
Stacey Snyder, of Tripoli, the acting power of attorney for the Garnetta Snyder trust property, took issue with the proposed plan. She requested a 48-hour notice if work needed to be done on the property.
Snyder said the reason the city was considering this route was the easement her mother, Garnetta, allowed for the trail, which Snyder valued as a $10-million donation.
At the meeting, Snyder questioned the rationale for the proposed route through her mother’s property, implying that the city was making the decision because another property owner had threatened to sue the city.
As of Nov. 6, Iowa court records show no civil actions had been filed against the city.
Snyder voiced a concern that if the resolution passes, land may be taken by eminent domain, that if trees are cut near the river, people will wander off the trail and trespass on private land, and that the ammonia from the city sewer being pumped across the route will be toxic.
Snyder, who holds a degree in science education, argued that the aesthetic value of the forest would be altered.
Now, it houses several endangered species which her family has observed on the property over the years, some of it now belonging to Dean Buls, including massasauga rattlesnake which is locally and federally endangered, the central newt and red shouldered hawk.
City Attorney Heather Prendergast said the mayor had a choice whether or not to close public comment with a caveat.
“There’s been some comments made that seem to suggest some concern over litigation and I don’t know that I want to head in that direction in light of those comments,” Prendergast said.
Mayor Brendt Bernard allowed 10 more minutes of discussion.
Snyder’s brother-in-law, Bruce Mueller, pointed out on the engineer’s pipe path map an alternate route cutting diagonally across farmland to the south of the current route skirting trees but not property lines.
Snyder said ag land is already compacted by machinery:
“No one will know the difference and you don’t have to deal with endangered species,” she said.
She recommended directional boring instead of trenching and theorized about the potential for some kind of cost sharing on the project.
“We encourage the council tonight to table or reverse your decision to go this route,” Snyder said. “We believe we have offered a variety of proposals and some compelling evidence. I would be willing to serve on a committee to bring together selected proposals for the city residents to decide.”
Van Dyke said directional boring was roughly three to five times more expensive than trenching.
He said an ag route considered south of the current route, which is outside of city property, and which he traced skirting field edges, would be roughly 10 percent longer and 10 percent more expensive.
Councilman Greg Eschweiler said the trees were already cut through and the species disrupted when the trail was installed.
Carlson wanted to know the increased cost and challenge to pass through farmland and look at a direct route as Mueller mentioned.
Van Dyke said the pipe would be 21 inches in diameter with a 30-foot permanent easement and additional 10-foot temporary construction easements on both sides.
To assess the potential of other routes, a preliminary computer-mapped LIDAR or light detection and ranging survey would cost about $1,000, but to really figure out if the route is viable could cost $30,000, Van Dyke said when pressed by Prendergast.
“It seems reasonable to me that you would take the time and put together the cost on that other route so you could compare what is the difference in cost and what are the real issues for that,” Former Mayor Jay Renard said. He later indicated he was referring to the $1,000 survey cost.
Bernard closed the hearing and indicated options were to move forward with the project or consider other routes, which could cost $30,000.
Carlson moved to table the project resolution setting the route and allowing eminent domain for further consideration, and Shonka seconded.
A potential bid letting is slated in January, and the city could come into noncompliance on its discharge permit if still failing to dilute ammonia discharge and potentially face fines with the DNR starting in October 2020.
The land between the southern farmland and the river, where Mueller’s proposed trajectory would have to cross, is state-owned, and doing so “could be a deal-breaker,” Van Dyke said after the meeting.
“The way your current facility is arranged, it will not be compliant with your DNR certificate [discharge permit] if not done by October 2020,” Prendergast said, reminding the council of its timeline to solve the problem. “That is in theory when the fines and penalties will start.”
“If we table this and think more, it’s $30,000 potentially on the line to find out if it’s cost-effective,” Eschwiler said.
Renard said the $30,000 figure was high with a show of his hand.
“Until they actually look at it and say this is the cost, you don’t really know what the difference is.”
“Jay, I agree, but to find that cost it’s going to be $30,000 before we start ripping trees out,” Eschweiler said.
“I thought I heard him say it’d take about $1,000,” Renard said.
“That’s just his component of it,” Prendergast said. “They would still have to order the land surveyors again. They would have to do the cost estimate how deep the pipes would go and all that additional.”
Councilman Jordan Shonka asked for “two weeks to answer some of the Snyder’s questions and do some more fact-checking.”
“My reason for tabling as well would be to allow more options to be brought up where we can actually discuss with the citizens this is affecting because ultimately we are working for them. Whether we spend $30,000 to do it, that’s a whole other thing,” Councilman Jordan LaDage said.
“Let’s keep in mind the additional engineering costs are non-refundable, if you do the extra work and find out we can’t use that route,” Bernard said.
Prendergast didn’t think an additional review would qualify for more state revolving funds, in response to Carlson.
“I understand the Snyder property has a lot of price to them and value, but I also understand ag land has a lot of value. If we wait two weeks and get an answer back from the state or something, but at some point we have to make that decision, and it probably isn’t going to please everyone no matter which way we go,” Eschweiler said. “I don’t mean that bad.”
“If you finish discussion and table the resolution so it passes, you can put this resolution back on [the floor],” Prendergast said. “If you change the resolution at all, you will have to republish notice and hold a new public hearing.”
The council voted 3-1 to table the motion, with Eschweiler casting the “nay” vote.