Demand up on the Summit | SierraSun.com

Demand up on the Summit

Charles RileySierra Sun
photo by Ryan Salm/Sierra SunThomas Skjelstad, general manager of the Donner Summit Public Utility District, at the district's wastewater plant this week.
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If it werent for an under-capacity sewer plant, hundreds of new homes would be going up on Donner Summit, and prices on vacant lots would be going up even higher.Thomas Skjelstad, general manager of the Donner Summit Public Utility District, fields a half-dozen calls a week asking about a planned sewage plant expansion and sewer permits to start construction of new homes on the Summit.We get four to five calls per week on this. Skjelstad said. Normally these are calls from people who are looking at purchasing an unimproved lot or are Realtors representing a client.Once the plant is expanded those calls will stop, he said.And what has been essentially a building moratorium on Donner Summit will be lifted. But not before about $10 million is spent.Even with the areas long-running shortage of sewer capacity hamstringing new development, Donner Summit real estate prices are up more than 50 percent for homes and 60 percent for vacant lots over last year, according to recent real estate sales records. That makes expansion an eagerly awaited event. Lots being sold by longtime owners for $170,000 to $200,000 without permits would sell for $100,000 more with a sewer permit, said Jackie Kirby, owner of Serene Lakes Realty. Moratoriums have been on and off over the last six years. The lack of a sewer hookup for a vacant lot is often enough to discourage some buyers altogether. The current sewer capacity shortage, which dates back to 2002 for the district itself and to 2000 for the Serene Lakes and Ice Lakes subdivision, wont likely disappear until 2010 or later. And it will come with a pricetag of about $3 million, not counting $7 million to meet increased state wastewater discharge requirements. Additional requests will be serviced once the plant is expanded after four to seven years, Skjelstad said. Preliminary estimates are that we need 300 more connections for Serene Lakes, and 500 for Donner Summit.Today the Summit has sewer capacity to support about 1,400 dwellings. That capacity is used by the areas homes, ski resorts and other businesses. The district now has customers virtually lining up and requesting an additional 800 connections, according to Skjelstad.And thats whos calling the district: property owners, potential lot buyers, Realtors, and contractors. They want to know when the districts plant will be expanded.Hopefully the expansion will allow for more homes and cabins, and will help the revitalization of historic Soda Springs, said Realtor Ken Stanley.

Joining the district two and one half years ago, Skjelstad has worked with the districts board to establish stability after a number of management changes. As well as the expansion, the district has to address a water quality improvement program needed to renew the plants state operating permit.California is putting stricter requirements on both ammonia and nitrates for the water we discharge into the South Yuba River, or use for irrigation on the Soda Springs ski hill during the summer months, when the Yuba flow rates are reduced, Skjelstad said. The improvements to meet the stricter water quality requirements will cost the district and its rate payers $7.25 million. Based on current projections, the expansion will cost an additional $2.8 million.Skjelstad said he wants work to expand the current plant to start next year with the initiation of environmental reviews. He said he hopes the environmental reports can be approved for the project by the end of 2007, and in parallel, design and engineering also finished.The expansion then could break ground in 2008, and be online by 2010, he said.

Only one thing is certain in this process, and that is current rate payers are not going to pay for [the expansion], said Dale Verner, Donner Summit PUD board president. The expansion can begin quickly once funds are produced.Beyond the anticipated capacity for 800 new connections, long term growth will place more capacity demands on the district. Verner said developers have approached the district about service to areas as far away as Cisco Grove. It is possible that two future wastewater collection and processing systems will be developed for the areas of Kingvale and Cisco Grove, he said. Verner noted that developers have discussed with the district the possibility of their providing land to support new outlying plants, but such facility would likely cost in the neighborhood of $14 million, he said.