Steamboat Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Dave Jarvis describes operations at the plant Thursday. Jarvis said the plant has capacity to handle projected growth, but like much of the city’s sewer system, the plant has aging infrastructure in need of repairs or upgrades.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Dave Jarvis describes operations at the plant Thursday. Jarvis said the plant has capacity to handle projected growth, but like much of the city’s sewer system, the plant has aging infrastructure in need of repairs or upgrades.

700 aside, officials say city needs sewer system upgrades


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

■ Learn more about the proposed Steamboat 700 annexation here.

■ Learn more about the Let’s Vote issue committee, opposing the Steamboat 700 annexation, at:

■ 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.

Widespread needs

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.”


Steve Lewis 7 years, 2 months ago

"The concern’s there today". It seems more accurate to say the City wastewater infrastructure is at maximum capacity - today.

And we are just getting to the question adjusting tap fees for the millions in needed infrastructure? Where was the concern when we were at 90% capacity? Where was the foresight?

One conclusion is unavoidable - we have just let 100's of units have building permits at what amount grossly inadequate tap fees. And the horizon of tap fee/permits is bleak.

This article was a painful read.


greenwash 7 years, 2 months ago

Heads should roll in the Public works and parks depts.Whos in charge here?The property owner / tax payers OR the employees??Clean house.


best4steamboat 7 years, 2 months ago

From what I understand, improvements to the sewage/wastewater treatment plant need to be done ONLY if there is SUBSTANTIAL growth, particularly in West Steamboat. ALSO, the WSSAP contains 1,000 acres of developable land, of which most are NOT part of the proposed SB700.

On that note, congratulations once again to the Steamboat Pilot/Today for the being a superior PR machine and Spin Doctor for SB700! Greed is good, as Gecko says.

Truthfully, I never thought I would see my hometown newspaper and its reporters fail so miserably in this SB700 “campaign” to report the truth.

The TRUTH is really all that a true journalist should strive for. What we have now at the helm of our Steamboat Pilot ship are puppets for the conglomerate holdings of our mothership, WorldWest Limited Liability Company, with Joanna Dodder, (remember her?) as editor.

I was taught in journalism school, that the reporter’s primary allegiance is to the public. Our current reporters and editors have completely forgotten this as is evidenced by the continued propaganda and half-truths spewed in the columns of our “community” newspaper.

A journalist is to serve as a “watch dog” over pubic officials and do more than just distribute fact-based information. Propaganda may be based on facts, but those facts can be presented in such a way as to influence people's opinions and may tell only one side of a story. Journalists should strive to be fair and complete. They should strive to be accurate and fair and report reality, not their own perception of it or anyone else's.

A reporter should also strive for independence from the people they cover. A journalist will provide a complete picture, even if it is not entirely positive.

Journalists should not be propagandists for their own viewpoints or for information provided by others. They are obligated to the public to do original reporting, which means asking questions on behalf of the public that have not been asked and presenting answers in a fair, objective and unbiased manner.

The Pilot/Today has so far failed in its basic duty as a journalistic enterprise, and I am ashamed for it.


Fred Duckels 7 years, 2 months ago

Liberals are quick to denounce anyone not furthering their agenda. I don't recall conservatives taking this stance, maybe we are not elitist enough. Ask Rob Douglas about the Community Alliance and their tactics. Maybe we need a fairness doctrine to level the playing field. Pleasing everyone is not easy, but we certainly seem ;to ;be a home for the habitually offended.


Fred Duckels 7 years, 2 months ago

best4sb, Your rant might mean something if you had the courage to identify yourself. Bullys are the masters of manipulaton.


Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 2 months ago

Whaaaaatttt??? Someone else calling out someone for being anonymous? Say it ain't so! Either way, Go 700!


Steve Lewis 7 years, 2 months ago

No thread would be complete without a Fred Duckels post laying the blame on those damn liberals.

Best 4, This Spring I also posted strong complaint with the Pilot's pro-700 editorial stances.

But here I think they deserve credit. This fiscal surprise is now a headline thanks to them, and a damned important headline at that. And its not good news for SB700's annexation.


best4steamboat 7 years, 2 months ago

Hey Fred:

Don't you own a gravel pit? You'll become rich!

BTW. This is a fiscal surprise, and the Pilot did post that important headline!


jk 7 years, 2 months ago

I agree lewi, it's going to be hard enough to recover from this short sightedness let alone float a loan for 700.


Steve Lewis 7 years, 2 months ago

The base area is the key source of the new demand. Steamboat put a concerted URA effort into spurring base area growth, and last year we did a huge density up-zoning of that base area. We don't have the infrastructure for either.

Steamboat has spent millions in URA tax increments on re-routing, rewiring and re-plumbing the base area. But most of these were inside the URA district. We’ll never recoup the fair tap fees we missed during the recent construction boom, but here’s a funding alternative: The URA should apply its siphoned community tax dollars to solving its share of this downstream infrastructure problem. Unfortunately that tax increment may not exist for some time.

Thinking system wide, it’s striking to see Tim Rowse’s future concern ala 700, “what happens if tap fees aren’t generated”, a reality in Steamboat even without 700.


Fred Duckels 7 years, 2 months ago

Steve, You don't seem to be offended by anonymous posters that agree with you.


Steve Lewis 7 years, 2 months ago

It’s been interesting to talk to folks who read this article who now believe we have 30% capacity left in those pipes. The comment by Philo Shelton about “70% full pipes” has unfortunately led some to a false confidence in our existing infrastructure capacity.

Tap fees should have been raised years ago while we were booming. Tomorrow’s recession era tap fee adjustments will fall short of funding even our existing infrastructure needs. I can understand when my growing water bills are paying for my share of water and infrastructure used. Will I next be paying for Atira’s and Wildhorse Meadow’s infrastructure as well?

Paul Hughes used “concurrency” in conversations during his tenure as City Manager. That concept requires that we not approve new development until we can promise the infrastructure to serve it. Look at all the new density approved at the base area. Right beside sewer pipes already at capacity.

Who's running this ship?


greenwash 7 years, 2 months ago

Good Question.....I think we have several employees who work for US who need to go.Not sure if this City Council is smart enough or strong enough to make the neccessary moves....Like firing longtime employees who no longer fit the bill of what is needed around here or are very over paid for jobs that potentally could be seasonal positions.Get Real.


pitpoodle 7 years, 2 months ago

Philo needs to go. He obviously does not know the history of tap fees in this town. Depending on tap fees is a joke really. They haven't brought in the money for infrastructure in the past and now we see tap fees can not keep up with city needs in the present. Does he think we are stupid? How can he expect us to believe SB 700 tap fee payments will pay a $34 million bill for water and sewer needs for the annexation? I don't know if he believes his own propaganda or is just plain lying. We just may see a SB property tax yet.


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