Rigby residents will have an opportunity March 5 to voice their opinions on the city seeking up to $18 million for a wastewater treatment plant.

Rigby City Council members have discussed the treatment plant for months, as the plant needs to be upgraded in order to bring the city into compliance with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ammonia standards. The standards exist to protect aquatic life from the “toxic effects of ammonia in fresh water,” according to an EPA webpage.

Rigby has until August 1, 2023 to meet the deadline, but a mile marker deadline of June 1, 2020 requires the city to have funding in place. Rigby officials cited this deadline as part of the reason they opted not to hold a bond election, but rather seek funding through judicial confirmation.

“I don’t think if we ran an election — I don’t think people understand,” Council Member Nichole Weight said in a prior meeting. “We’ve had nobody come to these meetings to sit through and listen to any of this.”

Judicial confirmation is a process cities can use to bypass a bond election for ordinary and necessary expenditures. The process still requires the city to seek input from the public through a public hearing, which the city voted last week to hold March 5.

The city may not use the full $18 million, though that is the number the council is seeking. The $18 million would pay for additional oxidation ditches similar to those currently in the facility, a technology that has been proven to work.

However, the council is also exploring a promising new technology that would cost $13.4 million, saving the city $4 million if it works. Council members previously approved a study of Nuvoda technology estimated to cost $100,000 to $200,000 in nonrefundable engineering fees and related costs through third parties. The study is expected to begin July 1, 2020 and end March 31, 2021.

Robin Dunn, the attorney the council approved to help with judicial confirmation, has said he would be unable to seek the $13.4 million for Nuvoda since it has not been proven to work, so the city must seek the $18 million for the other system.

Council approves contract for help seeking grants

$18 million spent on the Rigby wastewater treatment facility would mean an increase to sewer bills by an estimated $30 to $40 per month, per connection. If the city could receive grants, that cost would decrease by an estimated $2.20 for every $1 million in grant money.

During the Feb. 6 council meeting, the city council approved an administrative services contract with The Development Company for $12,500 to have the company seek grants for the wastewater treatment facility. Council members discussed the possibility of saving money by doing some of the services in-house, but Pauline Johnson, The Development Company project administrator, said it might not work well during the first phase of applying due to the amount of coordination involved.

“At this point, the clerk wouldn’t necessarily be involved, but the next phase they could definitely save some money for you,” Johnson said.

Dave Swager, city clerk, asked whether the city would still be charged fully if they did not get funding.

“That’d probably be negotiated,” Johnson said. “But ... I mean, you’re on the DEQ’s (Department of Environmental Quality’s) list for high priority.”

Johnson said being on that list means Rigby will likely receive grant funding, though she said it is not guaranteed.