Busted Axle Road
Chapter 2

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

When old man Sanderson died a few years earlier, and George Webb wound up owning the Spearfish Lake Record- Herald, Mike McMahon had become the news editor, and allowed himself to dream that he'd finally be able to quit grubbing around with the newspaper circulation on Wednesdays.

Webb had long believed that newspaper front office people -- advertising and editorial and front office people -- needed to keep a sense of perspective by doing some of the dirty work. Since the paper was a weekly, there was no such thing as a mailroom staff, so every Wednesday for a dozen years, Mike had pitched in with the printing, addressing, and delivery of the Record Herald. When Webb had left himself in the rotation, Mike knew there was no way he was going to get out of it.

There was one compensation, though; he thoroughly enjoyed it when his turn came to take the van to Camden, where the paper was printed. It was a long drive each way, with a couple of hours sitting around drinking coffee in the middle, and it made a marvelous time to think. It gave him the chance to just sit and chew on a problem, reflect on it, and assess the possibilities. There were times that he had put off a major decision until he'd had the chance to do the Camden trip, just so he could consider the options without being bothered by yelling children, ringing telephones, angry subscribers, or other such interruptions.

The problem that Mike was thinking about this morning wasn't the one he'd had on his agenda, though; this one had come out of the meeting of the Spearfish Lake City Council the night before. It hadn't been a major item at the meeting, and Mike hadn't even mentioned it in his story he'd thrown together in the late hours of the evening before, but it put another brick into a decision that Mike had been reaching toward for a couple of years.

It had actually been item 11 on the agenda, titled "Storm sewer separation". Mike had been hearing about storm sewer separation for the dozen years he'd been covering the Spearfish Lake City Council, so he really hadn't been paying a lot of attention when City Manager Don Kutzley reported, "The DNR turned us down on the storm sewer separation grant again, but said to reapply next time. However, they did say we've got to move ahead with the project."

"What are our options?" Mayor Ryan Clark asked.

"We can reapply for the grant," Kutzly said. "There's also a possibility that there's a Farm Home project we might be able to a grant for the project, but that's a longer shot than the DNR. But, if we get shot out of the saddle again, we're going to have to consider a special assessment district. The last letter we got from the EPA wasn't nice at all."

Clark nodded; he knew the answer to his next question, but there were a couple new people on Council that might not, and there were people in the audience, as well. "If we had to get on it, how big a project is it going to be?"

"We had the engineering work done several years ago," Kutzley reported. "We did manage to get a DNR grant for that. At the time, it was estimated that it was going to be about a three million dollar project. However, construction costs have gone up since then, and bids have been coming in high, so four million wouldn't surprise me."

"Well, I move we reapply, and take a shot at the Farm Home grant," Councilman Ray Milliman said. "A special assessment district ain't gonna go over real well."

The measure had passed unanimously, and the council went on to other business, while Mike made a mental note that he'd have to do a story on the whole storm sewer separation business. Maybe next week.

After a dozen years, he could have written the story in his sleep. The problem was fairly simple; while some of the storm sewers that drained the down emptied directly into the lake, there were many that drained through the sewage treatment plant. Most days, that wasn't a problem; on a normal dry day, the plant treated about a million gallons of combined sewage and storm water, and the plant could handle four times that. But when it rained, the plant could be asked to handle twenty million gallons of water, or more; the overflow had to go into the lake. While the overflow was admittedly dilute, it was still raw sewage, and the state Department of Natural Resources went ballistic.

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