Sewer project concerns property owners

By John Gardner
The Surveyor

Some residents along County Road 6 west of Berthoud are unhappy with a preferred alternative route for a proposed sewer pipeline that essentially would cross sections of their property.

“The real issue here is that they have an alternative,” said Rod Brandenburg, one of the property owners whose property would be impacted by the pipe. “They can run a sewer line down County Road 6 and not upset wildlife or neighbors’ properties.”

The Western Mini Ranches and Vaquero Estates subdivisions west of Berthoud, at the County Road 21 and County Road 6 intersection, have been served by an aerated lagoon sewer system since they were initially subdivided in the 1970s, according to a document dated April 29, 2014 from the Town of Berthoud to the Board of Trustees regarding the issue.

The subdivisions were issued a cease-and-desist order from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division to improve their wastewater treatment discharges because the current system no longer meets Colorado standards. So, the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment hired an engineering firm who determined four alternatives. The first option is a gravity fed sewer line running east from the existing treatment plant across several properties and parallel to Dry Creek to connect to Berthoud’s Dry Creek Interceptor sewer line just west of Highway 287. The second option was to build a new lift station and install a force main sewer pipe along County Road 6 to 287 then run north to the Dry Creek Interceptor. The third option was to build an entirely new treatment plant at Vaquero Estates which is more costly. And the fourth option included an evaporation pond.

Engineers recommended option one; to install a gravity line that would connect to Berthoud’s wastewater facilities. However, that requires getting permission from more than a dozen property owners for the easement to bury the sewer pipe across their property.

In a letter to neighbors dated March 13, 2014, Ed Schemm with Larimer County Department of Health and Environment who’s assisting Vaquero HOA members through the process clarified the situation.

“To establish the credibility of this option we need to determine the willingness of the property owners along that route to discuss a 20 foot easement running west to east through the properties between Vaquero Estates and the Berthoud Interceptor line,” the letter read.

Schemm said that the preferred alternative is the best option available for several reasons, but he indicated that option two remains a “backup” option that may have to be settled upon if an agreement can’t be reached.

“To narrow it down, the first two make the most sense,” Schemm said. “If we can do this by gravity, it’s better in the long run. Even if we’re talking 20 years from now, it’s better to have a gravity line that others can use than the force main that no one else can use.”

Schemm clarified his statement, saying that a force main is pressurized and limits any future connections to the system; whereas the gravity line would accommodate future additions for any homeowners along County Road 6 if needed.

The Vaquero Estates Homeowners Association has approved the option of a gravity sewer pipeline connecting to Berthoud’s sewer collector and treatment system. The association then formed a Local Improvement District (LID) through Larimer County, in order to qualify for a state construction loan, and has negotiated a service agreement with the Town of Berthoud for treatment of sewage.

The HOA offered affected property owners $3.90 per lineal foot for the 20 feet wide permanent easement and $0.80 per lineal feet for the 20 feet temporary construction easement. They also offered each property owner a single sewer connection to the pipe without reimbursement to the association for installation costs of the pipe; however, homeowners would still have to pay a tap fee to Berthoud, according to Schemm.

The LID will own the pipeline through the 20 year loan period but will transfer ownership to Berthoud at the loan’s conclusion. That’s why Berthoud is listed as a co-owner of the easements in the agreements. The agreement was approved by Berthoud because the two subdivisions are within the town’s 208 planning area as determined by the state.

“Although the Association prefers to obtain the easements by dealing directly with the property owners, this planning area association will allow the Town to exercise eminent domain to acquire these easements, if necessary,” the May 2015 letter to neighbors read.

Part of the concern is that the property owners whose property would be impacted by the proposed pipeline had no say in what option was the best. Vaquero Estates and Western Mini Ranches residents were presented the four options and then chose the engineer’s recommendation, according to Schemm and HOA president Tom Schaefer. The engineer study presented several options and rated each one based on a list of about a dozen items, Schaefer said, including: cost, long-term operational costs, reliability, environmental concerns.

“It comes down to their recommendations on the best project,” Schaefer said. “The gravity feed comes out ahead on that basis probably because of operating costs and reliability.”

As for the other options, Schemm said that there’s no sense in building a new plant if they can tie into Berthoud’s system and share the treatment costs with the town.

“The whole idea, when you talk about wastewater treatment, it’s always better if you can share costs of the treatment, and Berthoud has been very good to work with on this issue,” Schemm said.

Another neighboring property owner, Cyndi Fronapfel said that she’s concerned with a permanent easement across her property.

“I’m not opposed, but my understanding was that initially the pipeline would run south of the property along County Road 6,” Fronapfel said. “Not across my property just south of the [Dry Creek] ditch.”

Fronapfel, Brandenburg and others are also displeased with what they’ve called a lack of information and communication from the Vaquero Estates HOA regarding the project. Brandenburg said that he and at least four other homeowners were never notified of the project until they received the letter in May 2015, requesting a decision on the proposed easement by June 15.

“What’s aggravating is that we get a letter last month saying we were notified; we were not,” Brandenburg said. “There are nine of us concerned; five of us were never notified in 2014. It was all new to us.”

John O’Loughlin, another of the concerned neighbors, said that he feels that there hasn’t been a proper explanation of the project, no details of timeline and a real lack of communication.

“They’re just ramming the agreements down our throats without telling us what our alternatives are,” O’Loughlin said.

An initial letter was sent out in March 2014 detailing the situation from Schemm to neighboring homeowners. That letter stated that there would be someone from the HOA contacting to set up a personal meeting to discuss the project, but some of those meetings never occurred.

“In lieu of meeting with each of you individually, we feel that this mailing would be more expeditious and less intrusive alternative for disseminating the documents,” the May 2015 letter read. “However, we are quite willing to meet with those of you who would prefer that we do.”

The letter also included contact information to three of the HOA representatives.

“We’re trying to use the letter as an update to where we are at this particular time,” Schaefer said.

“We do have to move this process along, but certainly don’t want to be contentious with it,” Schaefer said. “We didn’t want our relationship with these people down the road to go this way.”

But Schemm confirmed that a lot of property owners were at least misinformed of the project and that is something that he and the Vaquero Estates HOA is trying to overcome.

“We still want to work with these people to see what we can do there,” Schemm said.

“We haven’t gone to bid; it isn’t even under design yet,” Schemm said. “We have to have this worked out and settled on prior to getting approval for the loan.”