What seemed like a green light to begin construction of a wastewater treatment facility in Rocky Mount hit another speed bump as unhappy residents filed legal action against the Rocky Mount Sewer District.
The facility — located 3,800 feet south of Route Y — would dump treated effluent into a losing stream and ultimately into the back of Lick Branch Cove on the north shore of the Lake of the Ozarks. The Rocky Mount Sewer District purchased the land for the facility on April 10.
The Missouri Department of Natural resources approved a construction permit for the district on June 13 but crews have not yet broken ground on the facility.
The Lick Branch Homeowners Association filed petitions in Morgan County Circuit Court July 25 for a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and permanent injunction to prevent the construction of an extended-aeration treatment facility on Red Arrow Road.
Homeowners say that they aren't opposed to a sewer system, but feel the Rocky Mount plan was hastily conceived and isn't the best option.
"The Rocky Mount Sewer District didn't want to deviate from the plan," Chris Barber, Lick Branch Homeowners Association President, said. "At the eleventh hour, we've had to file preliminary injunctions."
The Red Arrow location is the second proposed location for the facility; the original plan for phase one of a six-phase plan called for the facility near Blue Spring Creek behind the Dollar General store in Rocky Mount. The Rocky Mount Sewer District board scrapped that plan after landowners along the creek — none of whom the district would serve — protested the facility location.
Blue Spring Creek landowners voiced concerns over the ecological effects of a wastewater treatment facility at the creek at the end of 2012. Residents along Lick Branch Cove voiced similar concerns at subsequent sewer district meetings.
"The district's plan could adversely impact Lick Branch Cove water quality, harm an important aquatic ecosystem, adversely impact residential well water and harm human health, and significantly decrease property values," an Aug. 5 press release from the homeowners association states.
Barber said the ecological evaluation of the possible facility by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources left some holes.
DNR released their finding of no significant impact on April 5. According to the report, "The proposed project will have a positive impact on the water quality and will not result in any significant adverse impacts..."
The July 25 petitions filed in Morgan County allege the exact opposite.
According to court documents, the plaintiffs claim "the discharged proposed by the plan creates an unreasonable an unsafe potential for disease and illness to the residents of Lick Branch Cove."
Barber said an independent water quality evaluation by the homeowners association "will definitely happen." According to Barber, more thorough tests — including a dye test of groundwater — could be conducted.
Page 2 of 3 - "We have already done all of the studies by the best engineers and scientists who have been doing this for years," sewer board secretary Peggy Cochran told the Lake Sun in May.
Property values have become a key concern for Lick Branch Homeowners Association members.
"The owners of property on or around Lick Branch Cove will be damaged by the reduction in the value of their property," the litigation says.
Homeowners also say the added cost of non-metered base rate of $59 per month would add a financial strain to residents.
The sewer district, however, stresses the economic impact of a centralized sewer system on the area as a whole.
Advocating for increased opportunities for commercial and residential development, providing employment opportunities and replacing old septic systems, the district noted in a Sept. 2012 review that the regional economy would benefit from an increase in community tax base because of a centralized sewer system.
Since the abandonment of the Blue Spring Creek plan, the board vetted alternate ideas for the facility with no success. One idea called for the effluent to be pumped over the hill to Coffman Beach. The board nixed that idea because of insufficient funds.
Homeowners suggested that Rocky Mount homes hook into the joint Lake Ozark/Osage Beach sewer system, which ends roughly 4.5 miles from Rocky Mount.
That plan was discussed several years ago, but because of a flurry of rushed questions and uncertainty, the plan never came to fruition.
However, Lake Ozark Public Works Director Matt Michalik said the city would be willing to reopen discussions to hook in Rocky Mount locations.
He said the joint system has the capacity to take on Rocky Mount locations.
"Absolutely," Michalik said. "The sewer plant is permitted to treat three million gallons per day. On average, it treats only one to two million per day."
In a water quality and anti-degradation review dated Sept. 2012, the district noted it considered connecting to the regional system, but deemed the option too impractical and costly.
"Easement area would be located outside the district's jurisdiction and very difficult to obtain," the review states.
Barber also said the homeowners association — which has more than 100 members and is "changing hourly" — took issue with the lack of communication from the board.
"The citizens are totally in the dark of what's going here," he said. Because many of the homeowners along Lick Branch Cove own homes elsewhere, volunteers have gone dock-to-dock placing notices and information on the facility plans.
The project is funded by $3 million in grants and a $1 million loan. The district is waiting for DNR to close on the loan to the district. Once the parties close on the loan and barring injunctions, the district can begin construction on the facility.
Page 3 of 3 - The Lick Branch Homeowners Association is represented by Jefferson City attorney David Bandre' of Bandre' Hunt Snider, L.L.C. The Rocky Mount Sewer District is represented by attorney Bill McCaffree. The next Rocky Mount Sewer District meeting is scheduled for Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Rocky Mount Lions Club Building on Route Y.