City at impasse over sewer project

Assembly breaks into subcommittee to seek solutions

Posted: Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Juneau Assembly could not muster the eight out of nine votes required Monday night to override a Local Improvement District 97 vote against a landowner payment formula for the city's $4.5 million sewer expansion project.

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The discussion was tabled in favor of forming a three-member subcommittee to look at options that lower landowner costs and gain favor for the twice-failed plan.

Ten landowners in the West Mendenhall Valley industrial area favor paying their share to connect to the city sewage system as the city pushes a mainline sewer north down Glacier Highway, while 90 others don't want to pay for it or don't want it now.

Under the current proposal the city would pay nearly 80 percent with a voter-approved, special 1 percent sales tax and state funds. One hundred landowners would be responsible for $1.2 million of the project costs. Plans include the option for 20-year low interest loans.

So far the city has spent $1.25 million on the project to build a pumping station and hire consultants.

Traditionally, local improvement districts come from neighborhoods themselves as they seek public project improvements from the city. In this case the city has twice attempted to force a sewer improvement plan on landowners who say they have little use for a large-scale sewer system.

"Most (landowners) don't stand to gain much in the long run," Rorie Watt, deputy engineering director said. "In this case the city is pushing for economic development reasons."

"This is what we want," Jonathan Anderson, Assembly member, said. ""It's high density development."

James Sidney, a landowner representing himself and 10 others, said he would favor paying the bill if it were linked to the actual cost to put a system in that serves the needs of the landowners.

"Maybe we should pay for just us, not the entire north end of the city," he said.

The largest landowner in the industrial area would pay about $200,000 for the project; owners of much smaller one-acre lots would pay about $20,000, Watt said.

Payments for the latter would cost about $137 per month in the 20-year payment plan, he said.

Sidney said most of the businesses in the area are small shops or storage units that produce small amounts of sewage compared to lager businesses and residential homes.

Assembly member Merrill Sanford said the city should focus on serving the entire north end to Auke Bay and future housing developments proposed along Glacier Highway.

"We can't just build to fit this neighborhood," he said.

Sanford, Bob Doll and Randy Wannamaker will discuss options that reduce the assessed costs to landowners in the West Valley sewer extension by 30 percent and 60 percent Thursday, along with an option to do away with the improvement district all together.

"We can set the rate anywhere we wish, zero to 100 percent," Sanford said. "It's our privilege."

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