'Preposterous' Sewer Project Highlights Sprawl Issue | WGLT

'Preposterous' Sewer Project Highlights Sprawl Issue

Apr 12, 2017

A proposed east-side Bloomington sewer project is contrasting the issue of suburban sprawl with the city's own 2015 comprehensive plan, which focuses on infill development.

The $214 million city budget, approved by aldermen Monday evening, includes $300,000 to pay for oversizing a sewer line which would serve future development on land outside the city limits, north of The Grove at Kickapoo Creek subdivision. 

Infrastructure awaiting homes in The Grove subdivision on Bloomington's far east side.
Credit Staff / WGLT

"It really comes down to priority," said Ward 7 Alderman Scott Black, who said he'll propose an amendment to eliminate funding for the project. "Is a sewer oversizing project in a subdivision that is far away, that is projected for future growth, really the best use of our dollars at this time when have neighborhoods in our historic core that have been waiting for years and years to get sidewalk adjustments, new sewers, streets resurfacing, those sorts of things?"

The point raised by Black during Monday evening's council meeting developed into a 45-minute discussion.

"This is because at some point, 20 or 30 years down the line, there might be more growth out there. That is not consistent with our comprehensive plan where we are attempting to have infill and trying to make sure were a more sustainable city for the future," said Mayor Tari Renner on Tuesday's Sound Ideas.

Renner said the decision to move forward on oversizing the sewer from 8 to 36 inches would have no effect on the current residents of The Grove subdivision. The project would accommodate future development on 13,000 acres north of The Grove. Renner called accommodating future development in the area the very essence of sprawl.

"I think that $300,000 needs to be spent on existing homes, existing residents, rather than the phantom that someday growth might happen in areas that aren't even in our city right now," said Renner, who also called the project "preposterous." 

He's considering using his line item veto to strike the project from the budget. If the money isn't applied to the oversizing project, it would remain in the sewer fund for other projects.

The City's 2015 comprehensive plan, "Bring It On Bloomington," prioritizes infill over other types of development. The Grove subdivision, approved in 2005, is located farthest from the city's center, according to the plan. The plan indicates the city invested $11 million ($10 million for sewer, plus $1 million for water) to enable development in the area. As of 2013, the city recouped an estimated $0.5 million in 8 years. The costs detailed in "Bring It On Bloomington" don't include ongoing water, sewer, solid waste, or emergency services. 

In an interview with WGLT, public works director Jim Karch said a 2005 annexation agreement binds the city to pay for any sewer oversizing. The developer pays for and installs all 8-inch sewer lines.   

"The annexation agreement for The Grove at Kickapoo Creek is only for the approximately 460 acres that is currently within the boundaries decided at that time (2005)," said Karch. "Any additional upstream acreage is beyond what that annexation agreement covers."

Karch said there is "a lot of need" when it comes to existing sewers, and existing sewers are getting attention in the 2018 budget. He reiterated the oversizing was included because of a contractual agreement with the developer. 

In a statement to WGLT, the city's attorney Jeff Jurgens said there would not be a breach of the annexation agreement if the city decides to not oversize the project. 

"If the City were to make a policy decision that it did not want these sewer lines to accept flow from future development, we would not consider that a breach of the annexation agreement as it clearly provides the developer must construct the sanitary sewer within its development," stated Jurgens. Jurgen's statement also indicated the City Legal Department is not aware of any other annexation agreements that are in place for the territory directly outside of and upstream from the Grove, but the exact amount of land and issues associated with this are currently under review. 

"The City Council has passed a comprehensive plan and also other master plans and so staff always tries to take that as guiding documents for any action we take," said Karch. However Karch also explained he's uncomfortable interpreting any policy decisions the council may have reached as a result of adopting the comprehensive plan.

Ward 4 Alderman Amelia Buragas at Monday evening's City Council meeting.
Credit Cristian Jaramillo / WGLT

"I feel like the council made a policy statement, which didn't exist when The Grove was approved, by adopting a comprehensive plan that says we're not doing this anymore." said Ward 4 Alderman Amelia Buragas on Monday evening. "For the next 20 years we're going to focus on infill development where possible. Which is not to say developers can't develop outside the city limits, but we aren't going to prioritize it or pay for it."

The council ultimately approved the budget 8-1, with Alderman Kevin Lower casting the lone nay vote Monday evening, with the oversizing project included.

"At the end of the day the budget did pass. Alderman Scott Black voted for it," said Mayor Renner. "This is a large enough expenditure, $300,000, before it would be actually implemented it would come back to the council. So I have to kind of weigh my options, talk to people on the council.  What I may do is sign this document (the budget) because I know I can potentially exercise a veto later if its necessary."

Buragas said she'd like to discuss the issue in a future council work session. 

"I'm very uncomfortable with the perception that somehow brand new properties just being built jump to the front of the line," said Buragas. "We have neighborhoods that are struggling, their sewers are backing up into their basements."

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