Possible sewer service to Whetstone Parcel?
[ By Mark Reaman ]
While making it clear no decision is even close in determining whether Crested Butte would extend water and sewer services to the Whetstone affordable housing project parcel south of town, the council did agree to move ahead with a high-level feasibility study to see if the idea is even possible based on town capacity. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Gunnison County, owner of the property, will be signed to execute an assessment to determine the available capacity of the town’s water and sewer system.
According to Crested Butte Public Works director Shea Earley, Carollo Engineering will be hired to perform the assessment meant to be “an initial, high-level investigation” of the town water and sewer system. The county will pay for the assessment.
The county is moving toward a workforce housing project that includes 180-220 units on the site located about two miles south of Crested Butte near the Riverland Industrial Park. The county has stated that one of the major challenges of developing the housing is the installation of water and sewer infrastructure.
Ultimately, if utility extension is considered feasible, the town could extend the service through ordinance or through an annexation of the property if council deems it a good fit. If that were to be considered, council made clear that a robust public conversation would take place over engineering specifications and the potential impacts and benefits to the town and upper valley. A very preliminary estimate of the cost to extend the utilities from Crested Butte to Whetstone is about $10.7 million.
The county has also considered a similar utility extension request of the East River Sanitation District or on-site facilities as other alternatives, but the county’s initial preferred option is to tie in with town.
“We appreciate the conversation that the staffs of the town and the county have been having,” noted Gunnison County commissioner Jonathan Houck. “This is an important step at the beginning of this workforce housing project.”
In response to a question from councilmember Anna Fenerty, town manager Dara MacDonald said before any extension of utilities or annexation of the property, a deep, detailed analysis and conversation would have to be held.
Councilmember Mallika Magner raised concern with a clause in the proposed MOU that stated, “The MOU parties agree that there are community and environmental benefits for connection to the Whetstone Parcel to the Town’s water supply and sanitary sewer treatment systems.”
“I’m not quite ready to make the assertion that we agree on that yet,” she said. “This is a really big discussion and not one to be entered into lightly. It’s a big issue and we have to consider everything in terms of benefits to the town. I don’t think that representation needs to be in the MOU at this moment. It is premature of the town to state that intention.”
Earley said having another wastewater discharge location on the Slate River could eventually have impacts on the town’s wastewater operations.
“That sort of deeper discussion is important,” said Magner.
“It’s a long way out there before this could happen,” said Earley. “This MOU just looks at whether we as a town have capacity.”
Mayor Ian Billick said that as part of any discussion, the impacts on the upper valley will have to be reviewed. “For me, if we go down this route, there will be lots of implications of what happens to other nearby parcels,” he said. “That will be a big question for me.”
Nearby property owner Todd Colvin agreed that upper valley impacts would have to be considered. ”So often with annexations, adjacent properties are forced to be annexed and we are asking for protection to avoid that with our property,” he said. “We like the rural feel of being in the county.”
Council unanimously agreed to sign the MOU after striking the clause brought up by Magner.