OURAY – The long-overdue dredging of the City of Ouray’s waste water treatment plant lagoons is finally done, Public Works Manager Dennis Erickson told the Ouray City Council early this week.
The project got underway in May, and was supposed wrap up within three weeks. But as the work dragged on into the height of the summer season, numerous citizens began complaining about the revolting smell emanating from the project site.
The Whispering Pines subdivision, immediately down-valley (and downwind) of the lagoons, caught the brunt of it.
“We have been living with the most horrible stench for the last six weeks or more,” Laszlo Kubinyi told council at its regular meeting on Monday, July 21, explaining that he and his neighbors have had to keep their windows shut at night to keep the stink out. “We are living with hell, just so you know.”
One of the reasons the project took so long to complete was that the lagoons hadn’t been dredged in over a quarter century.
Even so, Liquid Waste Management (the contractor the city hired to get the job done) underestimated the volume of sludge that would have to be removed. As Erickson explained it, such calculations are derived through a rather inexact science that entails going out in a boat, and sticking a plastic tube down through the sludge, spot-checking in five or six different places.
The city’s wastewater treatment plant has two lagoons, both of which had to be dredged, using specialized equipment to suck the sludge out of the bottom of the sewage ponds and squeeze the water out of it.
Lagoon 1 took longer, because this is where the bulk of the heavier solids settled out. Mixed in with the biosolids was a surprising amount of trash.
“You would be amazed what ends up down there and doesn’t get caught by our bar screen,” Erickson told The Watch. “Who knows why people flush what they flush. It’s out of sight, out of mind. They don’t consider where it ends up. And this has been building for 25 years.”
Recent equipment failures added to the delays. But thanks to the overnight shipment of electrical relays and the installation of a new electrical motor on the dredger, the project wrapped up on Monday.
In all, according to Erickson, Liquid Waste Management has pumped out around 300 dry tons of biosolids from the lagoon, extracted from untold volumes of sludge. The biosolids have been hauled away to Delta County where they will be further processed.
Next, Erickson and his crew will be injecting new microorganisms into the lagoons to help digest the continuing onslaught of biosolids. “The system will soon stabilize and get back to normal,” he assured council. “Within a few weeks, it will be better.”
Erickson, who took the head job at the city’s Public Works Department in 2012, didn’t say why it had been so long since the last time the lagoons were dredged. But he did emphasize that from now on, they will be monitored systematically, and dredged on a regular basis every three to five years, “just like any kind of preventative maintenance.”
And next time, he said, the dredging will be scheduled for early spring or late fall, when the smell should be less of a problem.
“I feel for the people that had to live near there,” Erickson said. “It’s not pleasant. Hopefully, we are done and it’ll get back to being stable and everyone’s life will be more pleasant.”
Council Nixes Former Mayor’s Request to Purchase City Property
At its Monday meeting, the Ouray City Council quickly dispatched with former Mayor Bob Risch’s request to purchase a small triangular parcel of city property in the Cascade Catchment Basin.
Risch had originally approached council on the matter last spring with a proposal to purchase about 1,000 square feet of property that the City currently owns in the Cascade catchment basin that is adjacent to Risch’s back yard.
Sandwiched between lower 9th Avenue and the Fellin Park complex, the Cascade Catchment Basin is an engineered floodplain, where Cascade Creek spills out of the confines of the flume that channels it through town, depositing a fan of sediment and flood debris as it makes its way toward the Uncompahgre River.
The city acquired a grant to construct the catchment basin in 1983. As Risch recounted in a letter to council last April, its construction required the acquisition of the northern portions of three residential lots on lower 9th Avenue, two of which belong to the Risch family.
Risch pointed out that the city’s “taking” of the property “considerably reduced the useful size of the three lots,” and proposed to purchase back a triangular parcel on the west side of 212 9th Avenue for the purpose of creating “an attractive and functional boundary” between his home and the catchment basin – particularly in light of the city’s recent proposal to utilize a portion of the catchment basin for seasonal RV parking.
Risch proposed to build a retaining wall with landscaping features which he said, “will result in a much more attractive site as viewed from both sides,” and argued that “city access to the catchment basin and use of the remaining area for parking an/or storage of snow and gravel will not be negatively impacted in any realistic way.”
Since his original proposal, Risch has since modified his request, halving the size of the parcel he proposed to purchase to just 580 square feet in a flat area that is contiguous with his back yard, and agreeing to pay the assessed value for the property at a value of $17.20 per square foot, which comes to about $10,000.
But Risch’s proposal held little sway with the two council members and mayor who were present at Monday’s meeting.
Councilor Glenn Boyd reiterated his concern that the city is “land poor,” and objected on principal to Risch’s proposal. “[We would be] giving away part of a parcel we could use in the future, and I have a problem selling city land,” he said.
Councilor Richard Kersen fell in with Boyd’s line of reasoning, adding that the area in question, with its proximity to the Hot Springs Pool/ Fellin Park complex, could become useful to the city in the future, as a parking lot or for some other unforeseen use.
Mayor Pam Larson asked Risch if he would consider amending his request from a purchase to a permanent encroachment, which the city could revoke in the future if need-be.
Risch said he saw no benefit to that option.
“We are talking about eight feet in what is basically our back yard,” he said, struggling to contain his frustration.
As the discussion reached a stalemate, Risch said he was “very disappointed” and walked out of the room.
Ann Morgenthaler Heads to Telluride
Community Development Coordinator Ann Morgenthaler is leaving the City of Ouray to take a job as a planner with the Town of Telluride. Friday, July 25, is her last day of work. Morgenthaler came to the city as a paid intern, and was recently promoted to a full-time position.
“I have loved working at the City of Ouray and will miss it very much,” she stated in a memo to council. “It was an excellent opportunity for me that I am incredibly grateful for. I will continue living in Ouray and plan to contribute to the many positive things occurring in this wonderful community.”
Council gave City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli the green light to hire consultant Mark Garcia, who has worked with the city on numerous projects in the past, for 20 hours a week at a rate of $60 per hour to fill in until a permanent replacement for Morgenthaler is hired.
“I am very concerned about the work load,” Rondinelli said. “Until we get the position filled and a new person up to speed, there is a lot that is happening this time of year.”
He said he hopes to fill the vacancy within six weeks.
Council Adopts Strategic Plan
At Monday’s meeting, the Ouray City Council unanimously adopted a new strategic plan for the City of Ouray that outlines its vision and goals for the upcoming years and identifies clear objectives to achieve them.
Key goals include developing and maintaining the city’s amenities and natural resources, demonstrating government performance through efficient, effective and innovative city operations, fostering civic engagement and promoting fiscal stability and sustainability.
Fleshed out through a series of council retreats and work sessions, the strategic plan will be the guiding document for developing work strategies for city staff, including budget planning for future years through the city’s Capital Expenditure Plan.
Council and staff have made a commitment to frequently revisit the newly adopted strategic plan, with biannual work sessions dedicated to reviewing and updating it.
RV and OHV Complaints
In a memo to the Ouray City Council, Ouray Police Chief Justin Perry reported that his department has received numerous complaints about the city’s OHV and RV ordinances, and has also issued a number of warnings and a few citations to individuals who have been non-compliant.
OHVs are prohibited from operating on city streets in Ouray, but Perry said there is some misinformation on certain websites, indicating that the City of Ouray allows their use.
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