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Preserving a Public Asset for our Community

Post Date:05/24/2018 4:07 PM

Next week I will meet with the special committee to consider the future of Sandpoint’s Wastewater Treatment Facility.  The Committee is considering 2 options with regard to the Facility’s future location.  One is to rebuild the plant at its existing facility.  This would require expanding the footprint and would present certain challenges as the plant would have to be rebuilt upon the existing plant without impacting current operations. 

The second option is to build the plant at the 37 acre Baldy property where the Baldyfoot Disc Golf Course is located.  This property was purchased in 2007 by the City wastewater utility fund for that very purpose.  At the time, regionalization was a hot topic in local politics and the presumption was that this would be a great future location for a facility that treats wastewater from Sandpoint, Ponderay, Kootenai and beyond.  Since then, the impetus for regionalization has subsided and upon technical analysis it seems moving the plant would incur an additional $20 million cost to the taxpayer.  While the construction would be cheaper, pumping the waste to the new site and then back to the existing discharge in the Pend Oreille River adds a cost that the rate payers may be unwilling to bear.

The TAC will be making a recommendation to Council for a location in June.  If it is determined that the Baldy location is not viable, the wastewater utility can no longer hold onto the property.  It’s in the best interest of the City to keep this parcel as it is an incredible public asset.

Quality of life is a top priority of our community.  It is why so many residents choose to live here.  It is the foundation upon which our economy and way of life are built.  Not only tourism, but industry exists here because we are fortunate enough to live in an area abundant with natural beauty, recreation, open space, natural resources and affordability.

The Baldy property has so much potential to add to our quality of life.  While Baldyfoot Disc Golf Course is an incredible amenity, it is only a part of what is possible on this parcel.  This beautifully forested land borders the western edge of town and could provide a nice addition to our trail network connecting Baldy to Pine St.  It could provide a public campsite close to town where currently there is none available.  It could be a venue for outdoor events in a more natural setting than is possible at our existing, more developed parks.

Typically the City would have the option to transfer ownership through an inter-fund purchase.  This takes cash from the General Fund (Parks Fund) to purchase the property from the Utility Fund (the utility rate-payers).   Unfortunately, this is not possible for several years because the City has up-fronted the money for the downtown streets revitalization project (currently underway on Cedar St.).  While it will be reimbursed by Sandpoint Urban Renewal Agency over the coming years, the City doesn’t have excess cash for such a transaction.  It would be unfair to the ratepayers to hold onto this parcel, purchased with their money, when we know that parcel will not be used by the wastewater utility.

We must make every effort to retain this parcel for public benefit.  I’m asking for your help to organize a campaign to purchase this parcel.  I will be seeking grant opportunities and reaching out to philanthropic institutions to find support for this effort.  I recognize the challenge with this campaign as there are other competing interests of great value in our community, such as Pine St. Woods, UI/Boyer Property, Watershed Crest Trail, Pend Oreille Bay Trail, and others that are seeking financial support.  Nonetheless, we must consider the unique opportunities of this parcel and make the case that it is worth keeping for our community.  Contact your City Council and other leaders in the community that care about quality of life and conservation.  Let’s get the word out while we still have time, we value this open space.

The Mayor’s Roundtable informal meeting is held on every last Friday of the month from 8-9am at the Cedar Street Bistro in the Cedar Street Bridge.  I hope to see you this Friday, May 25th.

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