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City aid for sewer infrastructure project remains under discussion

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | September 21, 2021 7:00 AM

Libby officials are exploring funding options to partially reimburse a property owner for the installation of a sewer main along U.S. Highway 2.

Dan Torgison, owner of the Switchback Bar and Grill property, said he has spent about $90,000 to replace the restaurant’s septic system with the main. While Torgison could have hooked into the city system with a smaller diameter pipe, he chose to install the main so other nearby businesses could tap into it.

City councilors acknowledged during an August water and sewer committee meeting that the properly installed main is a boon for property owners and could reduce the city’s future maintenance costs.

They also noted the city recently had set a precedent for assisting business owners with sewer projects. During a subsequent committee meeting held Sept. 3, City Councilor Gary Beach told colleagues that the managers of Les Schwab Tire Center had made an agreement with the city engineer to install a sewer line — connecting with the new U.S. Highway 2 main — in exchange for an easement on the water line that runs through the business.

“The only thing that Les Schwab ended up paying for was the parts, basically, because it's in the same trench and everything else,” Beach said.

Torgison was hoping to receive a deal along those lines, according to Beach. The sewer main project included roughly $57,000 in equipment and labor costs. Around $20,000 went towards material costs. Torgison spent $9,400 on engineering work and incurred a $7,000 cost due to an engineering error.

Beach said the city would reimburse Torgison roughly $57,000 if city officials settled on a deal similar to the one they offered Les Schwab.

To cover their portion of the arrangement, councilors floated the idea of using a contingency fund from a water project. Mayor Peggy Williams worried that the city might have to dig into its coffers to cover the reimbursement.

“You’re basically trying to insert a sewer project into a budget that we didn’t budget for,” she said. “The sewer budget is right on the edge anyways.”

City Councilor Rob Dufficy worried that the city might have opened a “Pandora’s box” with the agreement they had made with Les Schwab. Other businesses looking to hook into the city’s system might request similar arrangements.

Along with Les Schwab, Venture Inn and Copper Mountain Coffee were looking to tie into the sewer main.

“With easements and things there are always negotiations,” said Beach. “Some people don’t negotiate anything, other ones negotiate the moon.”

During last month’s meeting, Beach argued that new taxes from redevelopment in the area eventually could cover the cost of the investment.

City Administrator Jim Hammons said he would ask City Engineer Mike Fraiser how much the city could draw from the contingency fund to reimburse construction costs.