City receives $3.6 million for sewer line repairs

By: Gloria Beverage
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Interim City Manager Bruce Kranz received word Tuesday that Colfax had received a $3.6 million commitment to fund repairs to the aging sewer lines. “This is what I consider a home run,” said Kranz. The award is being funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Best of all, Kranz continued, the city will not have to repay the funds as long as it can fulfill the criteria as a small, disadvantage community. Kranz indicated he had met with the funding agency, the State Water Resources Control Board, twice in the past two weeks to explain the city’s needs. “We told them the city is not dragging its feet. It’s doing everything it can (to develop a replacement program for the existing system),” he said. “And the community has righteous anger over it.” The State Water Resources Control Board has signed the preliminary funding commitment, which is more than what the city had originally requested, Kranz added. “This is wonderful news,” said Mayor Suzanne Roberts. “It’s the shot in the arm that Colfax needs.” According to the city’s application, “much of the city’s original wastewater collection system, which appears to be primarily clay pipe installed in the early 1900s, is still in place and concentrated in historic downtown Colfax.” The funds will cover upgrades to four existing lift stations (the elementary and high school areas, west of the Southern Pacific railroad tracks and the south end of town) and eliminate two existing lift stations. One of the primary concerns is the stations have no automatic warning lights to indicate a sewer overflow. The scope of the project would also include replacing, lining and rehabilitating sewer lines and manholes in the sewer collection system. The award arrives just days after the council had voted to seek additional funding to complete the state-mandated wastewater treatment plant upgrade. At last week’s meeting, the council had authorized Kranz to seek extended-term financing on a $7.5 million state loan for the wastewater treatment plant upgrades. By increasing the length of the loan from 20 to 30 years, the city hoped to reduce its annual payments. There is no word on the success of this request. As part of a recent settlement agreement over problems with the sewer plant, the city is required to develop a replacement program for private sewer laterals – the lines that connect residences and businesses to the sewer system. Under the new ordinance, laterals must be tested before a home is sold, before certain remodels are performed and at all commercial and multi-use residential properties within a year of the ordinance’s passage. Property owners would be responsible for inspection fees, repairs and other costs. With the award, Kranz said, the council’s hope is to have the flexibility to use money collected from rate users to offer grants to property owners to repair private laterals. The city is still hoping to win a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help pay for additional improvements on the system, particularly repairs to Pond 3 at the sewer treatment plant. “In anticipation of not getting this grant, we included the I&I (Inflow and Infiltration) and lift stations” he said, “We still have I&I problems. We hope to have the flexibility to deal with the other problems.” Roberts added that the council is “still seeking out grants that will help offset these costs.” Still, Kranz continued, this week’s award puts the city “a lot further ahead than it was two days ago.” — Cheri March contributed to this report.