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City takes deep dive into sewer moratorium

Trey Shanks, VP of Freese and Nichols, discusses recommendations for improvements to the sewer system on the east side of the city and potential funding sources Thursday night during a special city council meeting. Photo by Jeff Harrison

Council to consider rate increase, development impact fees to fund upgrades on east side

By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon

Midwest City leaders last week took a deeper dive into problems with the sewer system on the east side and potential fixes.

The city will need to spend more than $5.1 million on immediate upgrades to the lift stations and sewer lines that are currently at or over capacity, according to a consulting firm.
The sewer system upgrades will likely be funded through rate increases for residents and businesses and impact fees for developers.

Midwest City has had a moratorium in place on development on the east side since August due to concerns about the capacity of the sewer system. The moratorium prohibits development that will connect to the public sewer system on the east side. Developments with septic systems are still allowed.

The moratorium was approved following a study on the east side sewer system by Freese and Nichols, a consulting firm. The study outlined more than $28 million in upgrades to the system needed to accommodate future development.

During a special council meeting on Thursday, city staff and representatives from Freese and Nichols provided an update on the moratorium and outlined a prioritized list of projects and possible funding sources.

Midwest City has started on interim improvements to the Hiwassee and Edgewood lift stations and operational optimizations at the East I-5 lift station. The projects are funded through the current budget.

Two other immediate projects include the Timber Ridge and East I-5 sewer lines. They are slated to cost about $5.1 million.

The projects are scheduled for 2024.

If the city moves forward with the immediate projects, it will provide additional capacity in the system and allow most development to move forward, said Trey Shanks, VP with Freese and Nichols.
Freese and Nichols identified other projects to be completed over the next decade or longer. Short-term projects include Hiwassee lift station and force main, and Lakeside Dr. and East I-5 bypass sewer line. Long-term projects include Edgewood lift station rebuild and East I-5 lift station. The costs will be about $12.1 million (short-term) and $11.6 million (long-term).

Funding for the immediate needs will likely be provided through rate increases for users and development impact fees.

Impact fees fund facilities to serve new and expanded development in a defined geographic area. The one-time fee is imposed at the building permit stage. Impact fees cannot be used for repairs or maintenance of existing infrastructure.

The impact fees per single development unit could be $4,100 to $6,700.

Customers would likely see a larger rate increase in 2024 and a smaller increase in 2025. Freese and Nichols recommends a 10% rate increase that would fund the immediate needs and supplement maintenance and rehabilitation of the existing system.

The costs have not yet been finalized.

Ward 5 Councilmember Sara Bana said she was concerned about the impact a rate increase would have for many low-income residents. Ward 2 councilmember Pat Bryne agreed with her concerns but said they need to move forward with the sewer system upgrades.

“We have a lot of information that we’ve taken in tonight but we need to vote on it and get it done one way or another,” he said. “We have developments that are being held up and we have a revenue stream that we need to get in place to help support it.”

Byrne asked that the city put the item on the March city council meeting. He said that would allow public feedback from residents.

City Manager Tim Lyon agreed and said the city will continue to work to find grants and other sources of funding for the projects.

While the council expressed support for the funding source, they hesitated to lift the moratorium.

Councilmembers questioned why the city did not act sooner on the concerns about the sewer system capacity on the east side.

“When we considered adding all of these developments and annex properties that would create a burden on our sewer line, did anyone tell us that we’d be on an accelerated need to replace the east side lift stations,” said Ward 1 Councilmember Susan Eads.

Lyon said staff raised concerns about the sewer system capacity in 2019 when the city received a request to annex and develop east of Timber Ridge. Developers later submitted plans to develop other areas in the east side of the city.

Bana also expressed frustration about the city’s failure to address the issues in the past, while not blaming current staff and councilmembers.

“This is an issue that should have been prioritized over the years, and while we’re going to invest to build, we need a better gameplan of maintenance, so we don’t find ourselves in this place again,” she said.

Freese and Nichols is also working on a phase two city-wide master plan. Public Works Director Paul Streets said his staff works hard to keep the system running and believes the study will help provide a clearer picture of needs.

“Once we have all that data and information then we’ll be able to make some informed decisions about what our capital needs are and do some long-range planning,” Streets said.

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