The City Council elected to postpone a decision Tuesday on whether to spend almost a quarter of a million dollars on an investigation of a regional project for wastewater treatment services with the city of Woodland.
City public works staff have projected that pumping wastewater to Woodland rather than rebuilding the local plant could save the city of Davis about $30 million over the next 30 years.
But with several council members wary of forfeiting the $220,000 it could take to look into the project — and with a much-anticipated roundtable discussion to hash out Fire Department policies later that meeting looming on their minds — the council didn’t appear comfortable giving the OK.
“It seems like we’re a little bit scattered and I’m not sure we’re going to be able to bring it together and make a wise decision in the next 15 minutes,” Councilman Brett Lee said.
City staff will return at the council’s next meeting Feb. 5 for final direction on whether Davis should spend the not-to-exceed amount to evaluate the regional option.
For the past few years, Davis has been pursuing a project to upgrade its local wastewater treatment plant to meet more stringent effluent standards that the state first flushed down the pipeline in 2001. City engineers estimate the project will cost $95 million.
But late last year, Woodland leaders approached Davis with an offer to utilize its plant for wastewater treatment services instead.
The proposal, as it stands, would have Davis send partially treated wastewater to Woodland for the first seven years of the project and then completely raw wastewater thereafter for Woodland to treat and discharge.
With the potential for 30 percent cost savings over the local project and the understanding that taking the next five months to look into the regional option still would allow the city to meet the 2017 deadline to have its own new plant online, staff recommended Tuesday to look at the option.
“If money and the lowest-cost long-term project to the city is the ultimate goal, regional makes more sense, period,” Interim Public Works Director Bob Clarke said.
But Council members Lucas Frerichs and Rochelle Swanson were not ready to sign any checks just yet.
Swanson explained that when Woodland first approached Davis about sharing wastewater treatment services in 2010, staff presented much more information for the council’s review so they could make the best possible decision.
This time, Swanson said, she didn’t believe there had been enough input given from experts to assure her the study was worth the city’s time and money.
“I’m really hesitant to spend that,” Swanson said “We’re not even sure what the savings are going to be.”
Frerichs had concerns about why, if Woodland also would benefit from the deal, the city’s neighbor to the north wouldn’t share more equitably in the cost of the study. Staff had projected that Woodland would shoulder $50,000 to $90,000 of the cost of the investigation.
The councilman also wondered about governance of the project and the effect that halting all treatment services would have on the wetlands adjacent to the local plant northeast of Davis.
“There are a bunch of questions on this one for me and it’s not just a sort of black or white,” Frerichs said. “But I think that I have a real problem moving forward with this one for me personally.”
These questions, responded Michael Lindquist, the city’s senior civil engineer, would be answered through the investigation.
If the council approves the expenditure Tuesday, city staff will return in five months with a presentation on both the local and regional projects, at which time the City Council would make a decision between the two.
Mayor Joe Krovoza and Lee appear ready to move forward with the recommendation. At one point Tuesday, Krovoza made a motion to approve the money for the study, and Lee seconded it.
“Given the potential cost savings, it seems that spending a little money to find out if we can save a quite lot of money, to me, it seems reasonable,” Lee said. “Although my starting-point inclination is not to favor regionalization … the magnitude of the potential savings is so large it’s hard to say no.”
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash