The Merino Town Board learned during its regular meeting Monday night that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Hazardous Waste Group had some pretty stringent criteria for granting the town a permit to build and operate the “brine pits” needed for the new water treatment system. There was no way, the trustees said, they could afford what the state was proposing.
The reverse osmosis system Merino plans to use results in effluent containing all of the contaminants that have been filtered out of the water. That effluent is pumped into a series of ponds in rotating order. Once one pond is filled, the effluent is directed to another pond while the first pond evaporates out and the dried waste is removed and sent to a landfill. Because the dried waste is considered hazardous, Merino has to be able to remediate the pond site, should it ever be abandoned.
The CDPHE had proposed that the town set aside $10,000 a year for ten years to go toward that eventual reclamation. But even the $100,000 that would result was less than one-third of what Merino’s consulting firm, Rocky Mountain Water Solutions of Broomfield, estimated it would cost to remediate the abandoned brine ponds. Town officials said Monday night they had been told CDPHE thought that estimate was high, but didn’t indicate what they thought a more accurate number might be.
The funds to be set aside would have to come from revenue generated by the town’s water enterprise fund. Water rates were recently increased in anticipation of building the new water treatment facility. And town officials said they have no idea what it’s going to cost to run the new system; they have estimates based on other towns’ experiences, but conditions and estimates vary widely.
The problem is, regardless what the real number is, it’s doubtful Merino can afford it, and the town certainly couldn’t afford the $100,000 over ten years the state agency was suggesting.
Boyd Hanzon, Merino’s contact at RMWS, said Monday night that CDPHE was setting up a conference call for Tuesday morning to discuss the reclamation amount. Hanzon was told, if the state sticks to its $100,000 goal, all bets were off.
“We’d have to start over with engineering fees, consultant fees, the whole thing,” said Trustee Dan Wiebers. “Would they go for, say, $5,000 a year for ten years and then stop? Would they let us just run the things for a year or two until we know how much it’s going to cost?”
Hanzon said those all were questions the trustees needed to ask during the conference call.
“So, basically, the future of this project hinges on this one phone call,” Wiebers said.
“I think they’ll be pretty reasonable,” Hanzon said, “but it could be a very stressful call.”
By Tuesday afternoon, the stress levels has subsided markedly. Reached at his office, Hanzon said the CDPHE officials had tentatively agreed to an amount Merino’s trustees thought they could live with, but he wasn’t prepared to say what that amount is yet.
“I’ll be working on getting that finalized. We should know something in about a week,” he said.
Once this issue is settled, Hanzon said, Merino will be able to move ahead almost immediately in awarding contracts to begin building the system.