Archive for Thursday, February 26, 2009

City decides to update water plant

February 26, 2009

The De Soto City Council voted unanimously Thursday to upgrade the Sunflower water treatment plant and end negotiations to purchase water from Olathe.

The decision ended the council’s search for a solution to its long-term water supply needs that started in early 2008. But even as council members voted to invest in the Sunflower water treatment plant, they advocated the city reach out to potential partners to share water and ownership of the plant and the cost of its renovation and operation.

The vote effectively put an end to an alternative plan to join with Johnson County Rural Water District No. 6 to build a water line to transport water from Olathe.

The council’s decision came after city engineer Mike Brungardt gave a presentation of what was known when the council last considered the matter in December and developments since that date.

Brungardt’s presentation went for more than an hour but it was the first two recently learned facts about water rights and Olathe’s ability to satisfy the needs of a large customer that tipped the scales away for an Olathe arrangement.

De Soto would loss its water rights under a water purchase agreement unless water from its well fields was piped to the Olathe treatment plant for use and maintenance was performed on all the city’s wells to keep them operative, Brungardt said. Those would be very expensive steps that he couldn’t recommend, he said.

Olathe officials also indicated they couldn’t guarantee that city could supply De Soto with needed water to satisfy a large potential economic development opportunity, Brungardt said. But he qualified that statement by saying De Soto couldn’t make a blanket guarantee it could either without making improvements.

Nonetheless, the two factors, plus new data showing the effect on rates between the two options narrowing, were enough for the council to end negotiations with Olathe and agree to invest in the Sunflower water plant the city has operated for the past decade and will get title to when its environmental cleanup is finished.

The recommended renovation of the Sunflower water plant has an estimated price tag of $5.2 million. It has been assumed the city would phase in those upgrades, starting with the most critical.

City water department supervisor Clarence Brunk said the critical upgrades were the replacement of water lines from the plant to the Sunflower water towers and from the towers to 103rd Street, the installation of new electrical transmission lines and purchase of a backup generator.

Brungardt estimated the total cost of those improvements at $1.7 million. Just what that will mean to future water rates will depend on how that upgrade is financed, he said.

De Soto Mayor David Anderson, who had been an advocate of a wholesale agreement with Olathe, said the council made the right decision with the water rights and water availability factors.

Anderson had favored a wholesale agreement because he feared upgrading the Sunflower plant would make rates unaffordable for some residents and make water so costly that the city would lose economic development opportunities.

He still had those concerns, Anderson said. That made it important the city followed up Thursday’s decision with an effort to find partners to share in the expense and production of the Sunflower plant.

Mark Crumbaker of RWD No. 6 has indicated a willingness to talk about joint ownership in an arrangement that could include Johnson County Rural Water District No. 7, which serves the southwest part of the county including the New Century AirCenter, Anderson said.

When casting her vote in favor of the Sunflower option, Councilwoman Mitra Templin cited the need press on with an effort to create such partnerships to help with the cost of upgrades and operation of the Sunflower water plant.

Councilman Mike Drennon, who had previously voiced support for a wholesale purchase agreement, said that still seemed the best fiscal course and financing the expensive improvements at the plant could put the city’s taxpayers at risk. However, he said the loss of water rights and inability of Olathe to guarantee water to an economic development opportunity changed his mind.

Earlier this month, the council made grant applications for federal stimulus package money to pay for both options then under consideration. City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle said the water line application would be withdrawn.

Guilfoyle added a representative with Sen. Pat Roberts’ office said the senator would consider placing an earmark for the Sunflower plant renovations in a future appropriations bill.


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