If you go
What: Community Forum about Referendum A and the proposed annexation of Steamboat 700, with moderator Cathleen Neelan
When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Olympian Hall at Howelsen Lodge, 845 Howelsen Parkway
■ Learn more about the proposed Steamboat 700 annexation here.
■ Learn more about the Let’s Vote issue committee, opposing the Steamboat 700 annexation, at: https://letsvoteno.com.
■ Learn more about the Good For Steamboat committee, supporting the Steamboat 700 annexation, at:
Vote on 700
■ Ballots for the mail-only election will be sent to registered Steamboat Springs voters between Feb. 15 and 19. The election ends March 9.
■ Steamboat 700 is a proposed master-planned community on 487 acres adjacent to the western city limits of Steamboat Springs. The project proposes about 2,000 homes — from apartments to single-family home lots — and 380,000 square feet of commercial development that would be built to the standards of new urbanism (dense, walkable and transit-friendly).
Regardless of what happens with Steamboat 700, city water users likely will see a rate increase within the year to fund massive sewer system upgrades needed across Steamboat Springs.
Aging pipes, development at the base of Steamboat Ski Area and an increasing problem with infiltration — water from outside the system seeping into flawed pipes — are contributing to sewage levels that have the city’s main lines flirting with capacity as spring runoff season approaches and Steamboat faces potential growth in coming years. Public Works Director Philo Shelton said the city’s sewer upgrades could cost $16 million. He plans to approach the Steamboat Springs City Council this year with a proposal for increased rates.
“I don’t know how to sugarcoat it — the concern’s there today,” Shelton said Wednesday.
“Water and Wastewater Master Plan Updates,” a study by Denver-based McLaughlin Water Engineers, shows that much of the city’s sewer line from Fetcher Pond through downtown to West Lincoln Park, for example, is at capacity. Shelton said capacity means the pipe is routinely 70 percent full. Other city sewer pipes date to the 1930s, he said.
“There’s a good section of pipe that needs upsizing and replacement,” Shelton said. “This has nothing to do with 700, but it’s a huge, expensive project.”
Shelton said the city’s sewer upgrade costs and rate increases are independent of the proposed Steamboat 700 annexation, which is in the middle of a wastewater debate of its own. City voters will decide the annexation’s fate in a mail-only election that ends March 9. Ballots for the Steamboat 700 vote, known as Referendum A, will be sent to city voters next week.
Some residents are raising concerns about whether city wastewater systems can handle the annexation’s 2,000 homes at full build-out — in 20 to 30 years — and whether Steamboat 700 would affect city water and sewer rates.
Shelton and Dave Jarvis, plant operator at the Steamboat Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant, said Thursday that the answer to the first question is yes, citing average daily flow rates and available capacity at the plant. Shelton and Steamboat 700’s development team maintain that the answer to the second question is no.
The city’s annexation agreement with Steamboat 700 stipulates that developers pay for needed water and sewer infrastructure before corresponding development is built. Steamboat 700 property owners would pay the full costs of infrastructure expansion outside the development — such as new facilities at the city’s wastewater plant — through tap fees, Shelton said.
“The tap fee schedule would be based on covering all the costs of expanded infrastructure,” Shelton said. If 700 or other West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan development “doesn’t go through, we wouldn’t build those segments.”
Members of the Let’s Vote committee, which opposes the annexation, point to language in the annexation agreement stating that developers would construct or fund infrastructure “excluding water and wastewater treatment and storage facilities.”
Shelton and Danny Mulcahy, Steamboat 700 principal and project manager, said the agreement is written that way because tap fees from property owners, not developers, would pay for treatment and storage facilities. The assessment of tap fees is stipulated in the agreement.
“What’s missing is a definition of what tap fees pay for — and that’s inside the city (community development) code already,” Mulcahy said. “It’s not ambiguous. We pay for everything on site; tap fees pay for expansions.”
Let’s Vote spokesman Tim Rowse said Thursday that his primary concern is what happens if tap fees aren’t generated — in other words, if development revenues don’t support the needed infrastructure.
He referred to a point in the McLaughlin study stating that water system expansions will be needed at the equivalent of about 800 homes within the WSSAP, the majority of which is Steamboat 700.
“What it really boils down to for me is what if the 801st house is never built?” Rowse said. “At some point, the city will have to commit to the cost of the water and wastewater expansion. What if the tap fees aren’t there?”
Shelton reiterated that the costs ultimately lie with developers, not city residents.
“They’ve made it very clear that anything related to Steamboat 700 will not be paid for by current residents,” Mulcahy said, referring to city staff.
The Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, which services the mountain area and south side of Steamboat, also is facing upgrades because of old pipes and new demand.
“Overall, our current master plan has about $22 million worth of capacity upsizing and infrastructure replacements,” General Manager Jay Gallagher said Thursday. “We’re continuing to spend $2 million to $3 million a year on infrastructure.”
Shelton and Gallagher said their water districts are collaborating on a plan to upgrade interceptor facilities — where Mount Werner sewer lines meet the city’s — on the city’s south side.
“The base area redevelopment is pushing some increase on the interceptor lines,” Shelton said.
Gallagher said the Mount Werner district’s share of that upgrade would be $5 million to $6 million. The Tree Haus and Steamboat II subdivisions also use the city’s wastewater plant, off Twentymile Road to the west of the city.
Amid the water debates and projects, Shelton said he is most concerned with the city’s immediate needs.
Compiling cost estimates from the McLaughlin study, Shelton said the city faces $25.4 million in needed improvements, consisting of $9.5 million for its water system and $15.9 million for wastewater.
Development within the WSSAP would require $34.5 million of water system improvements, Shelton said. That consists of $27.4 million for water and $7.1 million for wastewater.
Those figures are the totals of short- and long-term cost estimates for the city and WSSAP in the McLaughlin study.
Shelton said a contracted study of tap rates would be completed after the Steamboat 700 vote. Should Steamboat 700 be approved, he said, water and sewer rates for the city and Steamboat 700 could be similar, because of the separate needs for new infrastructure or upgrades in both areas.
“You always need to invest in your water and sewer facilities to keep them working,” he said. “People don’t necessarily know where it goes after you flush.”