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Guest Opinion: Treating Lockwood sewage would benefit Billings, too
The Billings City Council's decision against a proposed contract to treat Lockwood sewage is a lost opportunity for both Billings and the Lockwood community. The Gazette's endorsement of this decision is equally divisive. A number of points can be made in support of the contract, but little can support its denial.
City Council member Ed Ulledalen's comment regarding an unfair subsidy for Lockwood is misleading. A subsidy is a monetary grant given to another entity. The city was not offering Lockwood money, nor was Lockwood requesting any. Lockwood was seeking cooperation with the city to reduce cost. The city would receive fair compensation for its services based on a rate study to be contracted by the city and paid for by Lockwood. The city would not provide any funds for the sewer or its operation.
During the council's work session, a comment was made that the city should not contribute to "sprawl" that may result from a sewer system in Lockwood. Yet the council encourages sprawl, particularly to the west, where there is productive farmland. Developers often subdivide tracts and apply for annexation to receive city services, thereby receiving higher prices for land. This puts a far greater strain on the city and taxpayers to extend services (including fire and police) and infrastructure (water, streets, and sewer).
The council raised questions regarding chemical pollutants entering the treatment plant from Lockwood. As I understand the contract, Lockwood would monitor and pretreat sewage for hazardous chemical pollutants before it enters the Billings plant. This is more than the city does for its own waste.
The lack of a sewer system for Lockwood has significant environmental effects, most notably groundwater pollution. Apparently The Gazette has little concern for the environment, based on its endorsement of the council's action. Lack of a sewer is Lockwood's problem, but it is difficult to correct the problem without tools. The contract with the city is only one of the tools. The Lockwood Water and Sewer District Board members are elected by the community and work hard to identify and secure funding for the project. Misleading information from opponents of the sewer system was a major factor in the failure of the latest bond issue.
Mayor Ron Tussing and the City Council have established a Commission on Energy and Conservation. Although I do not know the best operation for a wastewater treatment plant, I do know that optimum equipment efficiency is attained at higher loads. The existing plant is reported to be operating at 52 percent of capacity. Lockwood's sewer is projected to increase the load by 4 percent. If the plant can serve a city of 200,000 people, why should Lockwood be forced into duplicating existing services with its own plant?
Another concern expressed during the work session was having two potential pollution sources in close proximity to one another and the river. Failure at a Lockwood plant could have repercussions for the Billings plant. If the mayor and council are truly environmentally conscious, why do they support an additional pollution source?
Sprucing up east entrance
The city has used considerable sums of money and tax incentives for the South 27th Street corridor to create a positive south entrance to Billings. Lockwood can be viewed as an east entrance to Billings. Development in Lockwood depends, in part, on a reliable sewer system. With the continued failure of septic systems, how long will it be until businesses and homes are abandoned? Some may relocate to receive the services that Billings offers, but at what price? A healthy Lockwood community is important for the image of Billings as a great place to live and work.
One of the biggest fears expressed by the city is the annexation of Lockwood. Such a move would strain already tight budgets, not only for fire and police protection, but also for transportation, street maintenance, sewer and other services provided for the city. Although vocal residents of Lockwood strongly oppose such an annexation, Larry Brewster has indicated that some Lockwood business owners are considering annexation by Billings in order to get sewer service. Is this the city's goal - to divide Lockwood and annex the ripest parts, starting with the commercial sector, then the "better" neighborhoods? I hope not.
Ronald Pecarina lives in Lockwood and owns Energy and Sustainable Design Consultants.