Green Mountain residents hear update on sewer project
GREEN MOUNTAIN — A well-attended meeting providing updates on the long-awaited public sewer project was held at the Green Mountain Community Center on Wednesday evening, and the current status of the project and cost concerns were discussed.
The Green Mountain sewer project, which would construct a lagoon style system for the community, has been in the works for about three years, and Kristie Wildung, the project manager with Iowa Regional Utilities Association (IRUA), spoke to the community members Wednesday to get them up to speed on the project.
The last time she met with the community was July 31, 2019, and the project has evolved a great deal since then. At that meeting, Wildung had discussed applying for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to offset some of the costs of the project, and the financial burden on the property owners who would be paying for the sewer monthly.
Upon receiving those funds in November 2020, Wildung said they had to start working out several more environmental and regulatory clearances to satisfy the requirements of the United States Department of Agriculture as well as the CDBG.
They were expecting to begin the contract bidding process in November 2020 and to start work on the project through the winter and into spring of 2021, but that ultimately wasn’t how it panned out in the end.
“That was the plan. It was the plan we thought we were all under,” she said. “In late winter and early spring of 2021, we were notified that the project was obligated to some additional clearance items. So right away, we jumped on those and wanted to get those taken care of, because we know that with every single thing that they give us to do, it just simply causes delays in the project.”
After the new requirements were completed, the paperwork was turned over to the USDA Rural Development for review, and Wildung was confident that the project would go to bid. New obstacles, however, arose regarding land rights for the lagoon site. The property title had to be transferred from Marshall County ownership to the IRUA.
They continued to work on different requirements, and they were waiting on a letter of concurrence in order to go to bid, something they were expecting by the end of 2021. Alas, more challenges arose.
“There were several things that came up with the funding that we had to continue to — I call it hurdle leap, because I feel like that’s all I’ve done for three years, is try to get over each hurdle and not knock it over and make sure that I’m still standing when I get to the end,” Wildung said.
The USDA raised concerns about the cost estimate of the project because of all the delays they had encountered. With all of the difficulties caused by the pandemic, supply shortages and inflation, the cost estimated in 2019 was no longer accurate, and Wildung also felt it was a valid concern.
The cost estimate was reworked for the USDA, but the CDBG funding that would have provided $126,000 in federal funding to go towards the installation of the sewer system was recently rescinded by the Marshall County Board of Supervisors.
“The reason those funds were rescinded is, CDBG has a time limit on the funds that they provide for any given project. So once they’re committed, you’re awarded those funds, they give you X amount of time to use those funds and put the project to bed. Well, we haven’t obviously run out of time yet, but the administrators for CDBG were saying that there’s not enough time for them to get the project done and for us to keep the money invested,” Wildung said.
Wildung said she and the Board of Supervisors had very little choice but to rescind the funds, but they considered the idea of just reapplying for them. In the end, they decided not to take that route because of the extra cost required to meet all of the CDBG guidelines.
“It was like, it was costing you guys more money for us to get CDBG funding and use it than it would if we just said, ‘Oh forget it,'” Wildung said.
After making the decision, she said they informed USDA Rural Development of their choice not to reapply for the CDBG funds because it would affect the amount of funding the USDA would be contributing.
As the CDBG funds are no longer being used, there is now a cost overrun, which means the grant awarded by the USDA may not cover the entirety of the project, and whatever it does not cover will be loaned. The exact amount is dependent on how much the bids turn out to be.
The plan is still to continue to work through the funding issues and complete the last few USDA requirements, and Wildung said they were hoping that “very soon,” they would be receiving a letter of concurrence so they could go forward with the bidding process.
“Once we have that done, (the USDA) will be able to tell us specifically what will happen in terms of this other pile of money that we need to finish the project, and for sure how much of it will be loaned, and how much of it will be granted,” she said.
The monthly cost for residents once the project is complete has also changed. Originally, Wildung said they were anticipating wastewater bills between $80 and $90 per month, but with the current rates the USDA is projecting, the bill is anticipated to be about $99 per month. If IRUA only receives more loan funding and no grant, it could potentially push the bill anywhere between $114 and $118 per month.
“You can imagine how we feel about that, because we’re still working for all of you,” Wildung said.
Wildung didn’t think the higher bill was likely due to the income level of the community, however.
“Our goal is to just work really closely with them. We treat them as partners — because they are partners on this project to get it done — and work to try to keep that bill closer to what we originally quoted than towards the higher end,” she said.
Wildung stressed that the bill may seem high, but IRUA only keeps 15 percent of it to upkeep the sewer system. The rest goes towards paying off the USDA loan.
Community members expressed some frustration with the project during the meeting due to both the delays and the possible increased rates.
If all goes according to plan, Wildung estimated the project will begin at some point this fall and hopefully be completed in spring 2023, but she said she would inform the community when it goes out for bid.
Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.