It was a chilly scene along the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs on Monday. A task force may be formed to help answer the question of how to fund new capital projects to upgrade its stormwater system and help manage future flooding and problems associated with annual spring runoff.

Photo by John F. Russell

It was a chilly scene along the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs on Monday. A task force may be formed to help answer the question of how to fund new capital projects to upgrade its stormwater system and help manage future flooding and problems associated with annual spring runoff.

Steamboat Springs to form task force to determine how to pay for stormwater system upgrades that could top $40 million

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— Steamboat Springs soon will form a task force of city officials and community members to help answer what could end up being a more than $40 million question: How should the city pay for costly upgrades and repairs to its stormwater system at a time city officials say they don't have the money?

The answer could be a new fee for city property owners, a new tax or some other form of financing that has yet to be identified.

The question arises out of a draft of a study released last week that recommends the city should invest $17 million in new capital projects to upgrade its stormwater system and help manage future flooding and problems associated with annual spring runoff.

But the total cost of upgrading and maintaining the stormwater system is expected to be valued at much more than the $17 million.

Interim City Manager Deb Hinsvark said Monday the early cost estimate provided by a consultant that spent months analyzing Steamboat's bridges, culverts and dams easily could double.

She added the cost doesn't yet include the price of meeting any new federal stormwater requirements, the cost of land purchases needed to implement improvements to the system, and the cost of restoring and maintaining the city's existing stormwater infrastructure.

City engineers expect those extra costs together could increase the total of future improvements by an additional $18 million to $23 million.

“It's kind of a big issue and a new issue that I can assure you we cannot address with the funding we currently have or get,” Hinsvark said. “We could spend every penny we have on it and still not address it.”

City officials still are waiting to receive a prioritized list of the upgrades from their consultant before they develop a timeline for future stormwater projects.

Hinsvark said in November one option to fund the upgrades would be to assess city property owners a monthly fee. Several other municipalities in Colorado have turned to a fee system in recent years to cover their own stormwater infrastructure needs.

A March 2011 study conducted for the city of Greeley by AMEC engineering showed residents in 30 Front Range municipalities from Lakewood to Fort Collins typically were paying between $1.98 and $14.26 per month in fees for stormwater system improvements. Fees, unlike taxes, don't require a vote of the people.

But Hinsvark said Monday the task force could elect to pass on a fee.

“This community may choose to look in a different direction,” Hinsvark said.

Public Works Director Chuck Anderson said the task force the city is forming to address the stormwater needs is set to include not just city officials and engineers, but also property owners, homeowners who are impacted by flooding, developers and transportation officials.

He said the group led by city engineer Ben Beall will be asked to become experts on the stormwater master plan, and then recommend how the city should pay for it all.

“We're going to ask the task force to come up with that recommendation for how to fund these projects,” Anderson said. “Should it be a fee? And if it's not a fee, what other revenue stream could we use?”

Anderson added that while many questions remain about the master plan and when projects will begin, the early draft of the stormwater master plan does provide some important clarity.

“At least it narrows down the potential cost” of the upgrades, he said. “It's not $100 million, thank goodness, but it's still a large amount of money if we're going to go forward with this.”

Hinsvark said the demand for the millions of dollars worth of stormwater improvements is the result of the city never having a comprehensive plan to keep up and expand its current system, as well as new potential federal mandates for stormwater improvements that kick in when cities surpass the 10,000 population mark in the census.

Last year, the city tapped Short Elliott Hendrickson, a firm of engineers, architects, planners and scientists, to perform the $180,000 infrastructure study of Steamboat's bridges, culverts and dams. SEH is a firm of scientists, architects, planners and engineers based in St. Paul, Minn.

Problems the consultant found during their study of Steamboat's stormwater infrastructure included “aging drainage infrastructure, much of which is in need of replacement immediately or within 5-10 years.”

Their list of 13 problems also included the city's lack of “regularly scheduled, routine maintenance on most of the stormwater system, except on a primarily reactive basis.”

“This validates there are stormwater requirements that have to be addressed in this municipality,” Anderson said.

The city's stormwater system became a topic of discussion last year when the Steamboat Springs City Council discussed this year's budget, which includes two critical stormwater upgrades totaling about $220,000.

At that time, city officials told the council the improvements could total anywhere from $3 million to $100 million.

Some council members, including councilwoman Cari Hermacinski, cited the potential high cost of stormwater upgrades as another reason the city should continue building up its reserve funds.

“I think it's clear there's a tremendous amount of demand for capital dollars in this community, and I think what this stormwater plan does is to add significantly to that,” Hermacinski said Monday.

She said she would like the city to add the stormwater improvements to a greater list of the city's long-term identified capital needs, including the construction of a new public safety campus and deferred maintenance projects.

“I think what you're going to see is there's not enough revenue to cover all of these things,” Hermacinski said. “We need to figure out as a community whether we cross things off of that list and not do some of them over the next five to 10 years, or does (the city) want to go to the community asking to cough up more money?”

The City Council will hear a presentation about the identified stormwater needs at its Jan. 22 meeting.

The city plans to start forming the task force as soon as next month.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

Number one, if they want to collect money then make sure it is a voter approved tax and not a city council approved fee in lieu of voter approved taxes.

Second, the amount of money needed is not that huge compared to what city has been able to save and add to reserves over recent years. Suggests to me that it can be done with current revenues. Things like buses that service almost no one would have to be cut. But there is no reason that all current city spending must be considered untouchable. The idea that city cannot even come up a big chunk of the needed money is ridiculous.

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Fred Duckels 1 year, 11 months ago

The EPA has been trying classify runoff water as a pollutant but the courts recently nixed the idea. They seem eager to push this newfound agenda. I suspect we will be mandated to move forward, watch your wallet.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

Fred,

The thing to keep an eye on is what SB decides is required and thus create a local emergency requiring new taxes/fees vs what the EPA actually requires. EPA is not going to mandate that already pressed cities build new storm water systems immediately to meet the regulations.

Looks to me like SB City is technically only required to be able to show they have a plan and follow best practices. Not that the best system possible has to be immediately built. SB already uses scoria instead of road salt. SB already has paved roads and uses street cleaners.

But things like bridges and such do not have to be immediately replaced. The regulations would appear to require that when it is replaced that it take runoff pollution into consideration.

What I do see is a City that continues to look for ways to offload required spending from the city budget and use the need or popularity of that service to justify various forms of news taxes. A storm drain fee or a property tax for firefighters or whatever.

I see a city budget that they told us was stretched to the limits in 2005-2008 despite rising revenues and yet when serious cuts were required that it was hardly catastrophic. In fact, most of what was cut has not been viewed as worth funding again now that revenues have been recovering. And, in fact, City has had enough free money to buy open space and other nice, but hardly essential projects.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

And other obvious contradiction in City's claim of tough financial situation is that City expressed no interest in getting the maximum sales price for the public services building. From the City's own account, they contacted Big Agnes and offered to sell at a price that would "promote economic development".

Which appears to be a 30% discount from fair market value.

A City that is truly squeezed for money does not even consider accepting less than market value or a $900K gift for economic development without strong numbers. And in the case of BAP, the only calculation is that BAP promises to grow if given the building or leave if not.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

Several other municipalities in Colorado have turned to a fee system in recent years to cover their own stormwater infrastructure needs.

Yeah, that is true that some other governments have created fee based storm water "enterprises". What is not mentioned is that some of those taxpayers also got tired of having fees imposed and abolished those enterprises and forced their city to pay for it from tax revenues.

And why is this task force led by an engineer that makes sense for identifying the infrastructure issues also being asked to recommend how to pay for these changes? Only a cynic might suggest that this is an intentional attempt to have an obedient task force without the knowledge to recommend any means of financing other that what Hinsvark tells them. Anyone think the task force will have the bravery to say it could be handled within the budget if the city were to cut out the junk from the budget? Task force could say this can be paid within city budget and city might need additional revenues to pay for bus routes rarely ridden, economic development projects on Yampa, and so on.

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mark hartless 1 year, 11 months ago

How to fund the project?

Here's a crazy idea: Stop buying Iron Horses and Emerald Mtns and stop selling downtown real estate for pennies on the dollar.

Typical municipal government; piss away taxpayer $$$$ on the fun stuff, then come hat-in-hand to them for funding for the MOST BASIC of government duties. And when any resistance is encountered they just say it's "all for the children"... wouldn't wan't "our children" to have faulty sewer pipes or unsafe water. And those who oppose it still must "hate our kids" and want "our kids to drink dirty water"... Never mind many of those who oppose it have kids of their own.

Fred is right about the stormwater. You folks should see what they are doing back east...

TAXING RAIN! I AM NOT KIDDING.

You are taxed based on the square footage of the impermeable surfaces. Your driveway, roof, sidewalk, etc.

A typical Wal Mart in the chesapeake bay watershed now pays about $10,000/year in stormwater taxes!

Correction: CUSTOMERS of a typical Wal Mart... now pay...

Take a look around at all the big shopping centers and just do the math, folks! How many $Trillions of dollars tax-increase is that on YOU, NOT the rich folks.

Yep, Obama and the EPA are juuuuuust grrrrrrreat!!! SUCKERS!

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john bailey 1 year, 11 months ago

and the sun will be next , your asphalt is prematurely heating the atmosphere. hey, you , wanna but a t.v. station.

all together now , lets hula.... :0)

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

Mark,

I grew up in San Jose where there was a storm drain system that was considered a normal part of government services. And efforts to remind people that it flows to the SF Bay so things like washing cars at your house allowing soapy runoff is now not allowed. There is also a greater effort to clean the streets. And the southern part of the SF Bay which had become lifeless nasty water has improved.

Overall, this is not some crazy conspiracy.

But how SB chooses to respond says a lot about how SB government is run. A normal government would accept this as part of providing city services. First off, EPA does not control how towns make excuses on how to pay for essential government services. It is SB's choice that local government selected a task force that will never consider recommending reducing City funding of discretionary spending to fund an essential government service.

Second, based upon SB government history, I would expect SB government to say the EPA requires replacing this or that old bridge and that the costs to SB are the entire costs of replacing the bridge. When, in reality, all the EPA says is that when you replace this bridge then you need to spend some extra to filter the runoff. And the bridges that are identified as needing to be replaced were already on SB's list of needed capital improvement projects.

And so the bulk of the stormwater system costs will be a transfer of already identified needed capital improvements projects that City has chosen to not fund because it is so much more fun to give money to popular groups.

Anyone think this task force will invite noted local economic analyst Scott Ford to provide advice on funding? Or will this city task force rely upon the city finance dept?

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Bret Marx 1 year, 11 months ago

Still think selling the police/ fire station downtown for $900,000 less its appraisal price, holding on to a failed hotel purchased by the city, then coming up with another say....$10 million dollars for a new chunk of land and new fire station/police station is a good idea?

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rhys jones 1 year, 11 months ago

$40 Million? I'll do it for half that. Sign the check. We'll make it happen.

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mark hartless 1 year, 11 months ago

Scott

The Cheasapeake Bay is comming back some too, but at a huge cost.

Here's the funny thing:

3 years ago I was clearing a 1.99 acre parcel and building 24 apartment units (in the Cheasapeake watershed) I was held to pretty strict standards, had to build some diversion ditches that TO THIS DAY have never carried ONE DAMNED GALLON of runoff water.

I had to spend $45,000 on retention ponds, not to mention the space they took away from the development.

OK, let's say all that is acceptable because we need to clean up the bay, right???

Yey, right across the road is a farmer turning over a 100 acre field to plant corn who has ZERO silt fence, ZERO diversion ditches, ZERO retention ponds, etc. And, when he's done turning up the sod he spreads fertalizer over the whole field with no questions asked. Meanwhile his cows are down at the creek wallowing, etc in the creek...

Now, i'm all for farmers, but where's the "fair share" thingy???

Mattew 23:24 "Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel."

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

Mark,

All but a handful of environmentalists just want to live in the modern world with a bit less harm being done to the environment. There is no joy in adding costs that do not have the desired effect. And most environmentalists would gladly change the rules to not do what doesn't work.

As I posted after Rob's article, the city's storm water report says that SB has failed to maintain the culverts for decades and has allowed vegetation and silt to block existing culverts and failed to upgrade undersized culverts. This is yet another city mismanagement issue. The result is that residents are more vulnerable to flooding than if city had maintained the system.

The new EPA requirements that might effect SB have not been passed and are only under consideration. The future would appear to include measuring storm water and setting standards of what is acceptable. Anyone that looks at SB's creeks or looks downstream vs upstream would see that SB City is not that bad.of a position.

I think it is reasonable to ask if interim city manager Hinsvark is publicly trying to blame the EPA for SB needing to work on the stormwater system when, in reality, it is largely a problem of the City's own making due to pure neglect.

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mark hartless 1 year, 11 months ago

Scott,

I do not buy the "all but a handfull" claim.

The funny part is (in fact, I find this HILLARIOUS) the environmentalist whackos didn't even notice the culverts and didn't have a clue either way. Nor would they... ever, if someone didn't point it out. That's because, when it comes to what actually counts in the world of stormwater, most of them don't know which end of the tube the round comes out of.

YET their default position was and remains to vote for politicians who want to further empower entities like the EPA to pass and enforce regulations most of them couldn't even READ, much less COMPREHEND.

Oftentimes culverts fill and degrade without consequence because areas have a way of re-vegetating themselves and "settling in" so as not to notice the capacity reduction of culverts/retention ponds, etc. This leads me to the next HILLARIOUS point... Digging up and replacing those culverts will disturb and de-stabalize ground that is currently stable, and ultimately cause more sediment transportation than just leaving the damn things alone till they give visible problems and then fixing them case-by-case. NOT TO MENTION the COST of "fixing" something that ain't broke.

But, just TRY and tell that to an environmentalist or the EPA or DEQ. Besides, saying that environmentalists just want "a bit less harm done to the environment" is completely open-ended. Sure, they were saying that when they had a point 20 or 30 ago; but many of them are still bitchin' even though the air, water, etc is pretty darn clean; and many would/will keep right on bitchin, even if the whole county were as sterile as an operating room.

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John Fielding 1 year, 11 months ago

. Some of this issue is due to ever increasing standards of sufficiency. When our roads and bridges were first being built a century ago, something that was good for a decade was sufficient. It got replaced when it showed too much deterioration. Even half as long ago culvert sizing was not based on the hundred year maximum storm because they never lasted more than thirty years, nor are they expected to last much longer now, certainly not a century. And that "hundred year event" might just take two hundred years to actually happen.

We certainly should perform proper maintenance on our bridges. But we ought not to replace them before they actully wear out unless the increase in routine demand from increased runoff renders them inadequate. If the hundred year flood does wash them out before that, them replace then. It will not likely cost much more, and probably does not have to be done in the immediate future. .

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