Posted 6/02/15 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
The City of Ray last week suspended its program of accepting waste from haulers without charge, largely due to complaints from private wastewater treatment providers who feel the town is competing with private industry.
Instead, the city will use water allowances from the aquifer to fill the lagoon as needed.
“We didn’t have to suspend it. No one forced us to suspend it,” said Commissioner Richard Liesener.
Ray built two new lagoons to satisfy a large population growth that failed to materialize. As a result, the town’s population wasn’t filling the lagoons fast enough, which threatened to dry out and damage the clay lining at the bottom of the pools.
The commission looked into various options to fill the lagoon, including using the town’s well to pump fresh water into the ponds. It was their first choice.
“The first thing we did was kick the well on,” Liesener said.
Unfortunately, the well casing collapsed, rendering it unusable. Repairing the casing was a long process, and once that was complete, they had further problems with broken pumps and frozen pipes. Time was becoming a factor.
This week, Ray was able to get its well operating again and will now fill the lagoons with fresh water.
“We haven’t completely tested the well, but so far it seems to be fine,” Liesener said.
While waiting for the repairs to be complete, the commission looked into buying water from R&T, which was expected to cost about $80,000. In order to save taxpayers that cost, the city decided to accept outside treated wastewater from private haulers without charge.
The intention was never to compete with private providers.
“We’re running our city with our citizens’ best interests in mind,” Liesener said.
What seemed like a way to save taxpayer money soon turned into a controversy when private wastewater treatment providers began objecting to what they saw as a government entity competing with private businesses.
Some of these businesses in the industry formed a non-profit called Independent Sewage Providers. Member Keith Ehlers said about six private operators comprise the organization, and he had commitments from others.
Ehlers said he was pleased to find out the Ray Commission had reconsidered.
“I’m glad to hear that. It’s very good news,” Ehlers said.
Liesener said the complaints were full of inaccurate information and false accusations, however. This was frustrating for the commission as it tried to resolve a problem, he said.
“They’re just looking for a good, fired-up story. They’re not interested in the truth,” he said, referring to outside media coverage of the issue.
Ehlers said he sympathizes with the town’s predicament but any savings to the taxpayers from not buying freshwater from R&T was ultimately offset by taxes lost from private providers being deprived of revenues due to lost business.
“It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Ehlers said.
Ehlers said ISP’s primary focus was the situation in Ray but they’ve seen other situations in other communities where the members are concerned about competition from public entities.
He said they were concerned Williston was considering a similar program to accept waste, but the city has assured the organization this will not happen.
“In the end, what matters is government coming in and competing with private business,” Ehlers said.
Instead, Ray is pumping 25 million gallons of freshwater into a sewage treatment lagoon.
“Do we prefer to take the water out of the aquifer? Not necessarily,” Liesener said.
Besides addressing the controversy, the well water will have one benefit over accepting waste from private haulers. Recent tests on the lagoons show Ph levels are exceeding discharge limits. The fresh water will help balance that out.
However, Ray has not dismissed the possibility of accepting fluids from haulers in the future should they have further problems with the well.
“If our well goes down tomorrow, they’re going to get calls,” Liesener said.