Palisade may ditch Clifton sewer project

Once on track to invest millions of dollars to replace its sewer-treatment system, the town of Palisade is exploring an alternative that would cost taxpayers a fraction of that amount.

Town trustees are scheduled to vote Tuesday on the new plan, whether to direct an engineer to draw up specifications for a system that would diffuse the amount of ammonia in wastewater discharged into the Colorado River.

Town leaders have labored the past couple of years to figure out what to do with Palisade’s sewer lagoons, which can’t remove enough ammonia to comply with new, heightened federal standards. The town must meet those regulations by 2013 or face hefty fines.

Palisade appeared to be set to build a lift station and a three-mile pipeline to hook into the Clifton Sanitation District’s new treatment plant, concluding it would cost less in the long run than building its own plant. The town learned last summer it would receive a $4 million loan and a $3.8 million grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Water and Environmental Program. Palisade planned to chip in another $750,000 of its own money for a total project cost of $8.55 million.

But a couple of factors caused the town to rethink that project.

The USDA recently informed the town it would not cover the estimated $250,000 price tag to install a second sewer line to run to Clifton, concluding it wasn’t “modest” in design or scope.

Town Administrator Tim Sarmo said town officials believed it would be prudent to lay a second line at the time workers dig a trench for the project in case a problem arises with the first line or the town needs the additional capacity in the future.

And officials thought they could find enough efficiencies in the project that the second line could be installed without exceeding the total project cost of $8.55 million.

But with the USDA unwilling to reimburse the town the cost of the second line, and given federal guidelines that require town money to be spent before federal grant money, Palisade would be at risk for having to pick up the $250,000 tab. Sarmo said that’s money the town just doesn’t have now.

Sarmo said he doesn’t understand the logic behind the federal government favoring spending millions of dollars to keep a relatively small amount of ammonia out of the river but shunning spending a couple-hundred-thousand dollars.

“The federal government has determined the marginal cost-benefit analysis of removing a teaspoon of ammonia from a river full of it is worth a $9 million project. But the marginal cost-benefit analysis of adding a secondary line is not worth it. I don’t understand that kind of marginal cost-benefit analysis,” he said.

Aside from barriers encountered with the pipeline project, Sarmo said the town learned about technology that has emerged in the past few months that could allow the town to modify its lagoon system and diffuse the ammonia being released into the river.

Sarmo estimated the diffuser system, coupled with other upgrades to the lagoons, could cost $1 million to $1.5 million. He said he believes a state Department of Local Affairs grant awarded to the town could be paired with Palisade’s $750,000 commitment to cover the price.

Town officials believe the diffuser system would extend the life of the lagoons five to eight years, and possibly longer, Sarmo said.


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