Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Nathan Bourne

County lacks resources to fulfill promised engineering

Seeley Lake Sewer


SEELEY LAKE – The Seeley Lake Sewer District Board was informed at their Feb. 27 meeting that Missoula County will most likely not be able to fulfill construction engineering as promised by the former District manager. In other business the board discussed required easements and voted to create a committee to write an annexation policy but would deny annexation requests until the system is running.

In order to cut costs for the District, past District Manager and Missoula County Public Works Director Greg Robertson committed the county to doing construction engineering for the collection system of Phase 1. The commitment reduced the cost of construction by nearly $500,000 in the funding application to the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development (RD).

Robertson left his job at the county in the beginning of January but before he left he had informed the Missoula County Commissioners that there was money in the Public Works’ budget for a project manager to do the work.

Seeley Lake Sewer District Manager Jean Curtiss has since met with Missoula County interim Public Works Director Bruce Bender, Chief Administrative Officer Vickie Zeier, John Hart, Lead Deputy County Attorney - Civil Division and County Engineer, Erik Dickson.

At the meeting it became apparent that with Robertson’s departure, the county lacks lacked the resources and personnel with the skills to do the construction engineering. Additionally, Curtiss said that Robertson budgeted for a tech position not a project manager.

Curtiss said that the county is also not comfortable doing the construction engineering due to the risk. If something in the collection system failed it could come back on the county.

According to Curtiss, this has also been a big concern for RD because it is not normal for a county to provide this service on projects of this size.

Curtiss said the collection system is complex and should really be overseen by the people who drew the plans, Great West Engineering (GW). This would ensure it is built the way it was planned.

The District has a $500,000 grant that was received after the project budget was submitted to RD and Curtiss felt that could cover the added cost for GW to perform the construction engineering.

Some of the tasks such as traffic control plans, road compaction oversight, a District vehicle and surveying could still be provided by the county.

Curtiss said the county could also continue some resources that had been previously provided through the interlocal agreement that expired last November. Some of those resources include the District’s meeting space and records storage and administrative help from Missoula County Public Works Seeley Lake Projects and Operations Coordinator Kim Myre.

Curtiss said she would draft a letter for the board to send to the county to request these things.

Curtiss recommended the board work on creating the policies for allowing increased use of lots within the District and for property wanting to annex into the District.

The lack of an annexation policy came to light due to a board decision in December instructing GW to release design information to a developer of an RV Park. The proposed RV Park is currently in Phase 2 but developers would like to connect in Phase 1. The lot is about 800 feet from the nearest part of Phase 1.

Curtiss told the board that GW sent a basic map to Territorial Landworks but had not responded to their request for engineering details because it was not in GW’s contract with the District to do so.

Curtiss said that the Phase 1 collection system has been designed to service all the Phase but there may need to be upgrades to the system to include the RV Park. GW would need to have a contract to perform an assessment of what those upgrades might be.

These issues could be addressed if the District had a policy for reviewing these requests but GW told Curtiss that until the system was up and running everything is based on estimated flows. Calculating the cost of adding usage to the system would be easier once it is operational.

On Curtiss’s recommendation, the board passed a motion to create policy to deny any additional property from joining the District with the exception of two properties. The policy would remain in place until the system is running and it can be verified that it is sized to serve the entire existing district.

The two properties that would be allowed to join currently lie outside the District but will need to be crossed with the force main to the treatment plant. Curtiss said the landowners might want to join the district in trade for the easements.

A second motion to form a committee to create the policy for latecomers and annexing property was also passed.

Proposed RV Park developer Brandon Grosvenor requested the board consider allowing them to continue pursuing connecting the RV Park to Phase 1. Grosvenor said he would be picking up the cost of all the engineering for the RV Park’s connection. All they needed was for GW to tell them what would be required.

Curtiss explained that the issue was simply that GW has not been contracted by the District to even look at what would be needed.

Director Beth Hutchinson suggested that Grosvenor contract directly with GW to figure out what is needed. The board has already given GW permission to share design information to do that. Board President Pat Goodover agreed and Curtiss said she would notify GW that it could contract directly with the RV Park developers.

Curtiss has been working on obtaining several easements for Phase 1 and the force main.

One of the needed easements connects Pine Drive north to Cedar Lane. When that section of town was subdivided the north end of Pine Drive was actually a deeded lot. The owner of the lot has since passed away. A petition has been drawn up to allow the sewer to pass through. The District will start contacting neighboring landowners to notify them of the plans.

Three easements are required for the force main with one across private property, one across a private subdivision’s common area and the other across the north edge of Seeley-Swan High School’s property.

Curtiss has attempted to contact the private landowner and has a meeting set up to discuss the easement across the high school property. The easement on the homeowners association land is through a “no excavation zone” so Curtiss is working with the county to see if boring under Morrell Creek would avoid that restriction.

Additional easements are needed from the Montana Department of Transportation and Board Director Mike Boltz. Boltz said there was already a utility easement in place on his property where the main lift station is planned and Curtiss has contacted the highway department to discuss those.

GW is working to determine the size and location of all the easements so Curtiss can continue pursuing them.

The next regular board meeting is scheduled for 5:15 p.m., March 21 at the Missoula County Satellite Office located at 3360 Highway 83.


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