Whether it is a “threat” as the Greenleaf city clerk characterizes it or a legal obligation of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the net result will be a new and expensive sewage treatment facility for the small community of Greenleaf.
DEQ has told the city it has authority to fine the city up to $10,000 a day for being out of compliance with sewage treatment standards, according to Lee Belt, Greenleaf city clerk.
Pete Wagner, regional administrator for the Boise office of DEQ, sees it a bit differently. “We have not leveled threats nor have we applied pressure,” he told IdahoReporter.com, “but we are legally obligated to notify cities when they are in violation of environmental code, and Greenleaf had some very serious and prospectively dangerous problems with its sewage.”
As a result, the small community located in Canyon County near Caldwell is working toward completion of a new sewage treatment facility at a cost to its residents and businesses of $9.3 million for its fewer than 900 residents. That figure is approximately 40 percent of the total cost of the project with the bulk of the funding coming from federal grants. Wagner and the city agree that DEQ has helped secure funding for the Greenleaf project.
One of those impacted by a coming increase in sewage fees is Greenleaf Friends Academy, a K-12 private, Christian school located in Greenleaf. The school says its sewage rate will increase more than five times.
Merlin Glanzman, a member of the board of trustees for the academy, told IdahoReporter.com that “we regard this as dramatic.” He and the school’s business manager, Maxene Brown, petitioned the Greenleaf City Council in October for “reconsideration” of the likely new sewer fees. The city has thus far denied the request.
“Using a formula from the EPA, it looks like they’re (the city of Greenleaf) going to start charging us an additional $79.99 for every 25 students that we have,” Brown told IdahoReporter.com. Given the school’s current enrollment, Brown estimates that the school’s sewer services fee will escalate from its current $63.48 a month, to $445 a month.
Glanzman says he is unsure how the Friends Academy will pay the new sewer fees. “We’re a major employer in this little city, and you’d think that the city would want to show some more flexibility with us,” he stated.
“We empathize with the Friends Academy,” Belt told IdahoReporter.com, “but the fee increases should not be a surprise to anybody. We’ve held multiple public hearings on this matter, it has been discussed openly in our City Council meetings and we’ve allowed for a lot of public input.”
Belt added that not only is the school going to be impacted by fee increases, but also that some city residents who have been using private septic tanks will soon be forced to pay city sewage fees for the first time. “We understand that this poses a hardship,” he said, “but we can’t arbitrarily reduce the cost of this for one school, or one household. We all have to bear the cost of this.”
Glanzman believes that the new treatment facility is much larger than it needs to be, and he is concerned about the large price tag. “I suspect they built it big in hopes that the population grows.” According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, Greenleaf’s population actually declined from 862 in 2000 to 846 in 2010.
Wagner says the size and expense of the facility was not dictated by DEQ. “The city determined that for themselves,” he said.
Belt explained that the new treatment facility is necessary because of an action the city took more than a decade ago. “Around 1999 or 2000, the city acquired a privately owned and operated sewage system here in the city.”
But that system, according to documents provided by Belt, was found to be in violation of environmental codes by the Southwest Idaho District Health Department. Thus began the process of Greenleaf coming into environmental compliance or face the possibility of being fined.