Busted Axle Road
Chapter 98

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

Since it was cold enough to be blowing snow outside, this time Kutzley couldn't leave the fire hall doors open, although the trucks were outside, gathering snow. The building was even more packed than it had been for the meeting in July, when the special assessment district had first been brought up.

For the hundredth time, Kutzley wondered who the hell had told Mike McMahon about the retention pond, and in deer season, too. That wasn't good; half the cars in the back would have high-powered rifles in back, and although nothing was likely to happen, the potential scared him.

Ever since the Record-Herald had come out the week before, his phone had been going continually. People that had been angry at being summarily forced to come up with thousands of dollars for the sewer separation were even less happy at the news that they might be forced to pay out twice as much as they'd expected.

He'd asked Mike to keep it under his hat, to avoid giving the EPA ideas, and when Mike had held off for almost two weeks, he had thought that he might have gotten away with it. Then, the phone calls had started coming in, even before he'd seen the Record-Herald, and he realized that his hand was being forced. Well, there was nothing he could do about it now; the council didn't even dare not to discuss the retention pond.

At least this time, Kutzley had thought to borrow a P.A. system from the school and set it up in the fire station, so everybody could hear. Maybe that could help the meeting from being the same kind of zoo it had been the last time.

Ryan Clark called the meeting to order, right on the dot at 7:30. He banged the gavel and said into the microphone, "The second November meeting of the Spearfish Lake City Council is now in session. All rise for the Pledge of Allegiance."

As soon as the pledge had been completed people took their seats, but Clark remained standing. "Again, considering the subject matter, we'll dispense with the regular order of business until this retention pond issue has been discussed. I would just like to say, before we get involved with this matter, that the story in the Record-Herald last week was as much a surprise to all of us on council as it was to you, and about all we know about it is what you read. This is serious business here tonight, and I will not tolerate any demonstrations or remarks out of turn, and I will ask the police to eject anyone causing a disturbance. Is that clear?"

The room remained relatively quiet, with a low buzz of whispers filling the silence. Clark waited for a moment, then said, "I would like to ask the city manager to explain the meaning of this revelation."

Kirsten and Mike and Mark and Jackie sat together in the audience, with Mike writing furiously as the city manager talked; he'd have to go and write the story, as soon as the meeting was over. None of what Kutzley said for the first fifteen minutes was new to him, as he took the history of the sewer separation up through the July meeting, and the staff meeting that had been held a couple of days after that meeting.

"Council had directed me to explore alternatives to the separation project," he said finally. "With the help of the Waste Water Treatment Plant Supervisor, Jack Musgrave, we determined that there were two alternative ideas that could be studied, should we be forced to avoid overflows, and still leave the basic sewer system untouched. The first was to expand the size of the waste water treatment plant to the point where it could handle all of the inflow. However, due to the fact that the widely varying rate of inflow would mean that even a larger capacity plant might not always be able to efficiently process the inflow, we didn't take a very hard look at the idea. The other idea was that of a retention pond, to retain the excess flow until such time as the plant could deal with it efficiently."

Kutzley went on with the retention pond idea in some detail, while Mike was writing and thinking furiously, and an idea popped into Mark's head.

"Frankly," Kutzley said, "My main concern was then, and is now, that we need to have a good plan available if the EPA comes in and forces us to deal with the overflow problem despite the Critical Interest Area that protects the possible presence of this endangered species of snake. While we have been trying to get a reading from the EPA since July, we have not had much success, and their initial order still stands. It was my intention to come to Council as soon as we got a reading from the EPA, in order to go ahead with the retention pond project to avoid the overflows and fines. My intent was to cause a minimum of distress to the citizens of Spearfish Lake, while still obeying the letter of the law."

Kutzley sat down, and Clark took the microphone. "Thank you, Don," he said. "Now, at this point, I want to throw the floor open for public comment, but I expect it to be orderly. Everyone will have a chance to be heard. We've provided microphones out there, and I would ask that you use them. Please line up behind a microphone, and we'll go from one to another."

Mark shot out of his seat, but still was second in line for one of the microphones. When he finally got a chance to speak, he asked, "I want to come back to this idea of the treatment plant expansion for a moment," he said. "I understand that the problem there is the widely varying rates of flow. Wouldn't it be simpler, and possibly cheaper, to design the plant for a high rate of dilute flow, and then during times of low flow, just pump water in from the lake and process it to keep the flow rate even, so the plant could work efficiently?"

Kutzley shook his head. "I don't think that idea has been considered. Jack, would you have any comment on that?"

Jack Musgrave stood up, disdaining a microphone with his booming voice. "I never thought about that," he said. "There's no reason that I can think of off the top of my head why it wouldn't work, but it hasn't been considered. We'd have to triple the flow capacity, but it's not like we'd need three of everything we've got now. There's some things that wouldn't need duplication, like the lab and the sludge storage tank."

"Just to follow up," Mark said, "Any idea of the costs?"

"Again, right off the top of my head, maybe six to eight million. It's hard to say without engineering studies, and a comparison with other plants."

"So, you're saying that a larger plant might be cheaper than the retention pond?"

"It could be," Musgrave said. "But I can't give you any numbers at this time."

Something of a buzz filled the room, and Clark pounded the gavel for order. Councilman Hjalmer Lindahlsen raised his hand. When Clark recognized him, he said, "I think we'd be shooting ourselves in the foot if we went ahead with the retention pond without giving thorough consideration to other alternatives."

"Especially if they're cheaper alternatives," Councilman Ray Milliman added.

Mark took his seat. Mike leaned over and whispered, "How'd you think of that?"

"It just came to me," Mark said. "It might buy us a little time."

"We can hope," Mike said. "But I'll bet that once that idiot Kutzley came up with the retention pond, he never even asked the engineers about that alternative. I've about had it with that joker." He got up, to stand in line at the microphone.

"Mr. Kutzley," Helen deLine shouted into the microphone. "Would this retention pond do anything about the flooding that we have all over the southern part of town when we get a heavy rain."

Kutzley took the microphone again. "No, it wouldn't, Helen," he said. "With either the retention pond, or the expanded plant, for that matter, we would still be using the same collection system, and when it's asked to work at more than its limits, things are going to back up."

"Then the Fish and Wildlife Service can come and pump out my basement every time it rains," she said. "If they're going to bar our improving the storm sewers over a snake that probably doesn't exist, that's the least they can do. I read in the Record-Herald last fall that Miss Appleton never found a trace of another snake, and that she wasn't really sure that the snake found last spring was a Gleason's Sewer Snake, or whatever it was."

"Well, Helen, we have to accept the fact that the Fish and Wildlife Service has declared the town a Critical Interest Area for the snake, whether we like it or not."

"Do we have to?" she said. "If it doesn't exist, can't we take them to court?"

"We really haven't considered that alternative," Kutzley replied.

"Well, I should think you'd better before you waste three or four million dollars on a waste water treatment plant expansion or a retention pond, when we don't need either one of them." There was a round of applause at that statement.

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