Although just a few miles from the lake shore, the Blue Spring Creek valley in northwest Miller County seems far-removed from stereotypical lake life. With it's rolling hills, pasture land and namesake Blue Spring Creek, landowners along the creek's bank describe the area as a "pristine, primeval, eden place."
But those same landowners now fear the sanctity of cool-water creek is in jeopardy if plans for a wastewater treatment facility for the neighboring Rocky Mount Sewer District at the headwaters of the creek come to fruition.
The Committee to Save Blue Spring Creek sent the Missouri Department of Natural Resources 960 signatures in a petition dated Dec. 17 to reconsider the location of the proposed facility.
Janice Imler, a chairperson of the organization, outlined a five-point list of the main concerns of the committee. Among them, property owners fear the ecosystem of the creek may diminish as the effluence permeates the creek. The impact on well water and property values, odor emanating from the plant and potential for increased flooding round out the committee's concerns.
"[The creek] is a wonderful resource and we have so few," Imler said.
The treatment facility is part of the first phase of the six-phase sewer district project. Phase I will hook up 260 homes, a church, small offices, a lumber yard and the Rocky Mount Dollar General, all of which currently use septic systems. The sewer district was formed in August 2003 after a vote. Originally, the sewer district encompassed parts of Miller and Morgan Counties, but when Miller County residents rejected the formation of the district, the boundaries were redrawn entirely within Morgan County.
The committee says that while the majority of complainants aren't constituents of the district, they're still stakeholders. "We're on the outside because we live in Miller County," Imler said.
The proposed plant's position nearly straddles the Morgan/Miller County line. Blue Spring Creek begins in Morgan County, but quickly crosses into Miller County. Landowners along the creek in Miller County say they're getting stuck with the ecological effects of a facility they didn't vote for.
A press release from the committee says the effluence from the plant "will impact not only the natural state and wellbeing of the environment but can impact surrounding wells."
Stan Schultz, owner of Schultz Surveying and Engineering, the district's engineering firm, disagrees.
"It's not a concern of mine," Schultz said of the effect on the creek ecosystem. "Agricultural waste is a much bigger issue. One cow is equal to 20 people."
An anti-degradation report filed with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in Sept. 2012 indicated "the effluent limits... were developed to be protective of beneficial uses and to attain the highest statutory and regulatory requirements."
Page 2 of 3 - During a question-and-answer session at the Nov. 28, 2012 sewer district meeting, DNR engineer Greg Perkins said wells servicing properties in the area could be on the same water table as the creek. However, Perkins said, according to meeting minutes, "you would have a very difficult time proving that anything from the RMSD plant is causing the contamination of the well."
Schultz said the engineering firm has abided by all DNR guidelines and the facility will operate under the most stringent regulations.
But according to the Save Blue Spring Creek group, they would never have known about the facility. They claim they've had little to no information given to them, despite living along creek and a now three-year-old plan to build the facility.
"They've tried to keep this on the hush," Imler added.
Donna Skanes, the other chairperson of the organization, said she first found out about the facility after an engineer with the firm requested an easement across her property at the end of October 2012.
In a conversation with the Lake Sun, Schultz said the firm notified the landowner at the headwaters of the spring, but is not required to notify landowners downstream. Landowners also have qualms with sewer district meeting notices, which, according to them, is only posted on the doors of the Rocky Mount Lions Club — a place not generally visited by the public at large.
"Those folks think my guys lied to them. They didn't," Schultz said. "We didn't intentionally give them erroneous information."
"That's a hard area to get communication," he added.
The proposed treatment facility will sit behind the Dollar General store on Route Y in Rocky Mount. It is an extended-aeration plant and will feature ultraviolet light disinfection, which, at the final stage before discharge, will kill all bacteria, good or bad, within the treated water.
A United States Environmental Protection Agency wastewater technology publication claims that UV disinfection is the primary method to destroy pathogenic organism to prevent the spread of disease.
Schultz said the facility will dispense less than five gallons of effluence per minute into the creek. The plant is designed to handle a flow of 75,000 gallons per day.
That's 75,000 gallons more than landowners want. Landowners seek to either divert the effluence or relocate the facility to another area.
Both scenarios are unlikely, according to Schultz, because of a tight time schedule.
Plans for the facility were sent to DNR Dec. 13, 2012 with the entry fee. Schultz expects construction permits to arrive within 30 days. If construction does not begin by a June 30 deadline, the project will lose lucrative funding options. The project is funded by $3 million in grants and a $1 million loan from DNR.
Page 3 of 3 - A hearing with DNR is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. at the Rocky Mount Lions Club on Route Y to discuss the location and viability of the wastewater treatment plant.
Save Blue Spring Creek members say the vitality of their rural community is on the line.
"We need to save our community," Imler said.