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Basalt eyes sewer-plant takeover

A sewer district is probably the most unlikely target imaginable for a hostile takeover, but that scenario could be unfolding in Basalt.

Relations have become so strained between the majority of the Basalt Town Council and the Basalt Sanitation District that the council is exploring consolidation.

Councilman Steve Solomon is leading an effort to seek professional advice on the possibility of consolidating the two taxpayer districts. What he wants to explore is essentially a governmental version of a hostile takeover – with the independent sanitation district being folded into the town government.

Unlike some towns, the sanitation district and town government operate independently in Basalt. Each is governed by a board elected by its constituents.

Solomon made a motion Tuesday night to seek help from a consultant who could “extract” information from the sanitation district and raise the council’s “awareness level of what’s going on there.

“I’ve had lots of comments made to me by citizens about what’s happening there,” said Solomon.

Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt also lobbied for hiring a professional for advice on sewer-service issues. She noted that the Town Council’s recommendation is being sought on the sanitation district’s proposed plant expansion, but she doesn’t feel comfortable wading into such technical issues without expert advice.

Whitsitt added that an expert’s look at the district’s status and its future could spur better planning for sewer service. Better planning could be connected to consolidation, she said.

If the recent past is any indication, any consolidation effort would likely be viewed as a hostile move by the sanitation district’s board of directors.

Hostilities erupted in a separate conversation Tuesday night when sanitation district board members sought the Town Council’s endorsement for a plan to expand its sewage treatment plant.

A proposal to expand the plant from a capacity of 400,000 gallons per day to 600,000 or 800,000 gallons per day is going before the Eagle County commissioners Jan. 25.

The plant expansion has turned into a political brawl that has dragged on for several more months than was anticipated. The district is being pressured by numerous other agencies to extend service to the Lazy Glen Mobile Home Park east of town.

The delay of the plant approval has forced the district to place a moratorium on the sale of new sewer hookups. The freeze went into effect Dec. 9 and has put at least a handful of residential and commercial builders in a bind.

The outcome of the plant-expansion review is still up in the air. The Eagle County planning staff has recommended denial, as has the Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission.

The sanitation district board of directors was counting on support from the town of Basalt to help earn approval from the Eagle County commissioners.

“Obviously it’s going to have more weight if this board supports it,” district board chairman Clay Crossland told the council. “And we’re here to solicit it.”

But he was unable to secure that support. The board voted 5-2 to rescind its support of two letters on the plant expansion written by former Town Manager Kent Mueller. One letter raised concerns, a second endorsed the proposal after the concerns were addressed.

The board majority said those letters were never authorized by the council. In addition, none of the board but Mayor Rick Stevens and Leroy Duroux were willing to take a stand on the district’s plant expansion. The two in the minority endorsed the plant expansion.

Crossland told the council he was “appalled” that they wouldn’t support what he called the simple issue of approving a plan to expand the sewage treatment plant in their own town.

The consolidation issue wasn’t raised by the council until well after Crossland and other sanitation district board members left the room. Crossland was surprised to hear the issue surfaced when informed about it Wednesday.

He said he could see no advantage to the town of Basalt taking over the sanitation district. Exploring consolidation with the Mid-Valley Metropolitan District, which provides sewage treatment throughout much of the El Jebel area, makes more sense, he said.

“If the issue comes up, I see the benefits of consolidation with Mid-Valley,” Crossland said. “I don’t see economic benefits with the town of Basalt.”

Cost savings should be a major criteria used to decide if consolidation is worthwhile or not, he said.

Solomon said he doesn’t know yet if any type of consolidation makes sense, but he wants the issue explored. He said he believes state law has provisions for consolidation of the sanitation district by the town if at least 85 percent of the boundaries of each are common.

Any consolidation would require voter approval.


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