The school district is once again asking the county to consider issues concerning the Munger Mountain Elementary School sewer line.
When the school was built, much discussion went into whether to build a 4- or 6-inch sewer line.
Eventually the school district built the larger, more expensive line, which added over $300,000 to the price tag. It intended to operate the line as a sewer improvement district, allowing entities in South Park and Hog Island to link into it for a fee.
But the district has found itself unable to do that, Assistant Superintendent Jeff Daugherty said during a Teton County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees meeting June 13.
“We’re not interested in making a profit with the line,” Daugherty later told the News&Guide. “What we are mandated to [do] is recover the capital contributions.”
Munger Mountain opened last fall, but as of right now, Daugherty told the school board, only a few governmental entities are allowed to link into the sewer line because of the type of easements the district holds. So the district hasn’t been able to recoup the costs of construction, as well as those of operation and maintenance.
The first sticking point was an easement granted by Melody Ranch, owned and operated by Paul Von Gontard. At the intersection of South Park Loop Road and South Highway 89, the sewer line cuts a 45-degree angle across Von Gontard’s property, which allowed the district to avoid issues that would have been presented by digging a 90-degree line that skirted the intersection.
“We would have had to dig about 19 feet down to allow the gravity portion of the line to work,” Daugherty said. “And every utility in the county — internet, electricity, water — runs through that intersection, so it would have been complicated.”
The part of the easement that has caused the district headaches reads, “This easement is for the benefit and appurtenant to the property described on Exhibit ‘C’ only.” That property is Munger Mountain Elementary School, so the school district is limited, in theory, to uses directly related to the facility, which would not include the South Park neighborhoods the district had hoped to allow to hook up to the line.
Daugherty said the district worked with Von Gontard to change the appurtenant easement to an easement in gross, which would expand the allowed uses of the line. But a second easement on the property, which outlines its approved uses, has kept the district from allowing new users to hook up to the line.
That easement refers to a “district” operating the sewer line. It allows the creation of a sewer district that would operate the line similar to how other special districts in the county function. However, the school district has chosen not to do that and hired Rendezvous Engineering as its sewer operator.
In doing so the school district has created an open question as to whether the easement, given that Von Gontard has given the district more freedom, allows it to do what it wishes with the sewer line.
“The easement uses the word ‘district,’” Daugherty said. “We think it’s reasonable to interpret it as school district.”
The school district submitted a request for interpretation with the county in hopes the Teton County Board of County Commissioners would agree with its interpretation. The request must first move through the Teton County Attorney’s Office and the Planning Department.
Daugherty expects the appeal, which has a less formal process than a request to change zoning, for instance, would go before the county commission in the next few weeks, though it is not on any public agendas yet. John Graham, of the attorney’s office, said he could not comment on an open request that has yet to go before the commissioners.
If the county doesn’t approve the request for interpretation, the school district may have to move the line, digging it up from where it crosses Von Gontard’s property and putting it in line with South Highway 89 and South Park Loop Road. That option would force the district to align the sewer main with the other utilities in the area, but it would be costly and have an unintended consequence.
“There would be no restrictions on who could hook up to it,” so future development in South Park would have access to it, Daugherty said. “And it would cost about $190,000.”
Daugherty said the school district hopes the county sees the situation through its lens.
“This is the easiest solution,” he said, “and it doesn’t allow for unfettered development in the South Park area.”