Stormwater task force starts meeting in Steamboat Springs | SteamboatToday.com

Stormwater task force starts meeting in Steamboat Springs

Water runs down a culvert in November near Lincoln Avenue and Seventh Street. A task force composed of 17 engineers

— A task force composed of 17 engineers, property managers, hydrologists and city officials has embarked on its mission to help the city of Steamboat Springs chart a course for millions of dollars’ worth of potential upgrades to its stormwater system.

During at least the next four months, the task force will become experts in a recently developed master plan for the city’s stormwater infrastructure and settle on a recommendation for how to pay for all the potentially costly improvements.

The group’s efforts come as other cities in Colorado also are grappling with how best to implement upgrades and cover their costs.

"There’s a lot going on with stormwater right now," city engineer and task force leader Ben Beall said Tuesday. "Some cities have entire stormwater divisions. Some charge utility fees to pay for upgrades. Some are trying to implement fees, and it’s going well. And others are trying to implement fees, and it’s not going well."

Included in a thick binder of material being reviewed by the task force is an article that describes how Adams County is facing criticism after implementing a stormwater fee for property owners in unincorporated parts of the county based on how much impervious material like roofs and driveways the properties have.

The Denver Post reported Monday that an audit recently revealed the assessment on the properties had a 34 percent error rate, meaning some property owners were being over and undercharged.

The Post reported that after the error was discovered and following a public outcry, the county voted to convert the controversial fee into a flat rate and is convening a task force to plot a path forward.

"Those kinds of things are things we can learn from," Beall said Tuesday in his office.

City leaders here previously have said a fee to fund future upgrades is something the task force will consider, but they also will look into other funding mechanisms.

The task force met for the first time last week, in what Beall called a productive meeting.

He said the group’s efforts in Steamboat will have three phases.

"Phase one is learning the current system," he said. "The second phase is trying to identify what the community’s expectations of the city are in terms of water quality, flood risk and infrastructure. The last and final phase is moving forward with a recommendation" for how to implement stormwater upgrades and fund them.

The task force was formed after the city learned it potentially has to make millions of dollars’ worth of improvements to its storm water infrastructure.

In January, City Manager Deb Hinsvark said the demand for the tens of 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 the potential for new federal mandates for stormwater improvements.

Beall said Tuesday that the predicted costs associated with potential federal mandates are significant but represent a small portion of the overall improvements the city is considering making.

Last year, the city tapped St. Paul, Minn.-based 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.

Problems the consultants 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 to 10 years."

The study suggested improvements could top $40 million.

Beall said the task force will help to determine which projects should take priority and what Steamboat’s stormwater program should look like in the future.

He said the group is aiming to have a final recommendation to the council sometime in July but said the time frame could change.

"These are big questions we’re facing, and we’re glad to have the task force to help us answer them," Beall said.

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