By Larry Kline/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Havre City Council wants to hear what residents have to say in the ongoing debate of whether the city should join the Rocky Boy's/North Central water project.
City Council member Pam Hillery made a motion at Monday night's meeting to hold a public hearing on March 7, during which people can voice their opinions on whether the city should pay $6 per water hookup, or about $20,000, for an engineering study to find out how much it would cost for the city to join the Rocky Boy's/North Central Regional Water Authority.
The water project, for which Congress has authorized $229 million, will bring treated water from Lake Elwell to the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation and other communities and water districts in the area, serving about 18,000 residents.
Hillery initially made a motion, seconded by City Council member Terry Schend, to use reserve money in the city's water fund to pay for the engineering study.
"I've heard over and over from members of the community that we need to do something," Hillery said.
Several fellow City Council members objected, saying they thought the public should have a say in the issue, and Hillery and Schend withdrew the motion.
"I just think the government should offer the rate or taxpayers the option to come and tell us what they think," City Council member Emily Mayer Lossing said.
"I think we need to hear the public voice," City Council President Rick Pierson said.
Hillery said she did not intend to exclude the public, but only wanted to get the issue moving forward. She said she supports letting the people having their say.
Annmarie Robinson of Bear Paw Development Corp., who is coordinating the water project, attended Monday's meeting to address questions about the project.
Hillery asked if the city would be able to use the regional water system as an additional source of water instead of a replacement. Robinson said that would not be possible because it would be hard to locate a problem if the systems were allowed to co-mingle.
"The system is designed as a sole source," Robinson said. "If there is a water quality problem, then whose problem is it?"
City Council member Jack Brandon asked if communities would be allowed to "opt in" to the project at a later date. Robinson said that after the transmission line and treatment plant are designed, it would be difficult to accommodate any significant new users, such as a city of Havre's size.
"If communities opt out, there is really no chance of opting back in," she said.
Havre decided not to join the project in 1997, instead choosing to upgrade its water treatment plant. The City Council began reconsidering the issue early last year after residents and members of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce voiced concerns over the future of the city's water supply.
Robinson provided written answers to questions submitted to her in writing by the city.
What would the initial capital costs and ongoing yearly costs be for the city and taxpayers?
The regional water authority will bill each participating system for debt service and water usage, Robinson wrote. The city will determine the assessment for each water hookup within the Havre system. The initial cost for the city will be unknown until an engineering firm performs a study.
The continuing costs of operation will not be known until the project is completed, but engineers have come up with an estimated cost of 69 cents per 1,000 gallons of water.
Who will be in charge of the treatment plant, design, maintenance and water quality regulations?
Robinson wrote that the core system, including the intake at Lake Elwell, the treatment plant and the main water line running to the reservation, will be under the jurisdiction of the tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The North Central Montana Regional Water Authority will be responsible for components of the system not located on tribal land. The tribe, the authority and the BIA will enter into a tri-party agreement for operation, maintenance and replacement of the system.
The tribe will select an engineering firm for the design of the core system, Robinson wrote. The water authority will procure engineering services for the construction of the rest of the system.
The transmission line will be sized to allow for a 16.5 percent population growth, but the system would allow the city to provide water for a high-usage business if one were to locate in Havre. The business could use water from current sources for nonpotable uses, provided that the two water sources do not mix.
Maintenance of the plant will be the responsibility of the BIA, which will use a computer tracking system to ensure that the plant is properly maintained, Robinson wrote. The BIA will maintain part of the transmission line and the rest will be maintained by the water authority.
The water quality will be regulated by the EPA and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Robinson wrote.
The third written question asked about the Havre water system.
All distribution and any needed treatment once the water reached Havre would be the city's responsibility. The project's cost does not include any money for any improvements that may be needed within the Havre system.
Because the project would be the sole source of water for the city, the treatment plant would likely have to be shut down. Robinson wrote that the city would still need employees to maintain its distribution system. The outstanding loan on the treatment plant would still be the city's responsibility, though Robinson noted that there is a bill in the Montana Legislature to provide forgiveness to communities with high debt.
In other City Council news:
The City Council's Fire and Police Committee meeting has been set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. The committee will consider a letter written by Police Chief Mike Barthel, Fire Chief Dave Sheppard and public works director Dave Peterson asking that City Council pass a resolution to go forward with an enhanced-911 plan that designates the Havre Police Department as the call center.
A $5,000 bid for the Heritage Center was sent back to the Finance Committee at Mayor Bob Rice's request. The committee will consider the bid on Feb. 14 at 7 p.m.