Opinion

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Reality Check

Independence and Sewage Treatment

The Evergreen community has done its level best to ensure government overreach stops at its boundaries

Having been involved in local government, I learned early that electability does not equate to competency. I shun this type of regulatory instability. Hence, once I left local government, I moved to the unincorporated and fiercely independent Evergreen.

The Evergreen community has done its level best to ensure government overreach stops at its boundaries. While Evergreen shares a zip code with Kalispell, it has thwarted all attempts by Kalispell to annex it, and when Evergreen’s business owners determined they were best equipped to position Evergreen economically, they developed their own Evergreen Chamber of Commerce. A major impediment to further development is Evergreen’s tie to Kalispell’s wastewater treatment plant. Many folks don’t realize that Evergreen cannot expand and grow without expansion of its Water and Sewer District boundaries and perhaps additional dedicated capacity. Expansion of these boundaries is entirely at the discretion of Kalispell. So, when a developer wishes to build just outside of the current Evergreen district boundaries, the developer must ask Kalispell to extend the boundaries. And if Kalispell prefers infill development in its own incorporated areas, it has zero incentive to expand the district boundaries to allow growth in Evergreen.

This, of course, was the tradeoff when Evergreen desired to move to a municipal-like water and sewer system. Rather than go through the expense of building its own treatment plant, it secured a portion of Kalispell’s vastly overbuilt treatment plant through an agreement with Kalispell to serve the Evergreen district. This was a godsend for Kalispell, as it had built an enormous treatment plant and needed users to fund its cost. But what this agreement also ensures is Kalispell gets to hamstring development in Evergreen by refusing to agree to alter the Evergreen district boundaries.   

It may be time to rethink this relationship. The City of Kalispell is increasing sewer and water rates, which will affect Evergreen. The reason for the increase is too much wastewater is discharged into Ashley Creek. The Kalispell plant can still take more sewage, but its discharge location can’t take the burden of the wastewater load being discharged. So Kalispell either has to increase the effluent treatment in its plant (which costs a boat load of money) or it has to identify an alternative discharge location (like a local river) and fund the piping of wastewater from the plant to a new discharge location (also costing a boat load of money).

As the largest user of the Kalispell sewage treatment plant, Evergreen will feel the burden of those costs. If independence is what Evergreen seeks, consideration should be given to obtaining funding for Evergreen’s own sewage treatment plant or renegotiation with Kalispell with respect to the district boundaries.

Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.