On May 17, in addition to candidate primaries, the ballot will also have an important question for some Ammon and Shelley residents: “Shall the Eastern Idaho Regional Sewer District be organized?”
In the early 2000s, Ammon and Shelley residents voted to pass bonds to create a regional sewer system with Bonneville County and Bingham County. These four government entities entered into a “Joint Powers Agreement” (JPA) under the name EIRWWA, or the Eastern Idaho Regional Wastewater Authority, to jointly operate and maintain a sewer treatment plant along the Snake River west of Shelley, and several sewer lines to convey sewage to the plant. From its beginnings, the four entities agreed this new organization would one day need to be a sewer district.
The JPA stated that, regardless of size or population, each entity would have one vote on the new EIRWWA board, each being appointed by their respective city councils or county commissioner boards. This remains in place today, even though Ammon’s sewer flow to the plant has reached nearly 70% of the flow, with Shelley’s flow at 26%. The remaining fraction of flow is used by portions of Bonneville and Bingham counties.
One of the purposes of forming the new sewer district is to address this imbalance of representation. The new district will add a board member, giving Ammon three representatives and Shelley two, with county areas being combined with city representation. Each representative on the new district board will live in one of five zones. While current representation on the sewer board is by appointment, sewer customers district-wide will be able to directly elect all five board members of the new sewer district.
A new district is also intended to address an imbalance in future funding of the plant, which is needing capacity upgrades in the near future. While cities like Ammon and Shelley have bonding authority, counties do not. Under the current JPA, if future bonding was ever needed, those bonds would have to be passed by city sewer users only. A sewer district on the other hand has bonding authority, meaning that sewer customers district-wide would be affected equitably by future sewer decisions. The sewer district would also be able to consolidate and refinance the existing Ammon and Shelley bonds for future needs.
The district will also mean better operations for the regional sewer system. Having one organization running sewer operations throughout the district will provide for a more cohesive decision-making board where all parties are equally impacted. This will bring efficiencies, better operations and more unified interests than the current JPA between four separate entities. Also, functioning as a sewer district may provide better access to state and federal grant and loan funding than the current arrangement. The EIRWWA entities are currently seeking grant funding from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Importantly, in late 2020, the DEQ ordered EIRWWA to proceed to form a sewer district.
Residents of Iona and northern Bonneville County, including some parts of Ammon, are already part of another sewer district called the “Iona-Bonneville Sewer District.” Just like IBSD, the new proposed sewer district will have five board members elected by the public.
The sewer district ballot question will not involve a bond request or tax or fee increase request. The question asked will simply be whether or not the sewer district should be formed. Even so, as explained above, the long-term financial impact to Ammon and Shelley residents could potentially be greater if a sewer district is not formed.
For these reasons, we strongly believe that this sewer district will be beneficial to all affected, and urge you to support it on May 17.
Sean Coletti is the Mayor of the City of Ammon. Jeff Kelley is a City Councilman for the City of Shelley.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeff Kelley is an owner of Community Pioneer. His views expressed in this op-ed do not necessarily reflect the views held by Community Pioneer as a company.