PINETOP-LAKESIDE – The Save Our Digester group is growing in numbers. There are 34 members who have joined their Facebook page group and there are at least 135 people previewing the site. The operative word in the title of the group is “our,” as ratepayers feel ownership in the digester in which so much taxpayer money has been invested.
In November a rumor circulated around the Mountain that the so-called digester — a piece of equipment used for large -scale paper composting — had been shut down and replaced. This drew interested ratepayers together who wanted answers, thus the forming of the digester group.
The Pinetop-Lakeside Sanitary District (PLSD) provides sewer service and wastewater treatment for Pinetop-Lakeside and other areas of Navajo County. It serves approximately 8,200 customers who pay for the service, including the operation of the digester.
Many people showed up at the December board meeting, and 10 actually spoke about their concerns at the call to the public. It was learned in that board meeting that the digester — correctly named rotary biomixer, per District Manager Dave Smith — has not been shut down to date and is still operating though new equipment with new technology was approved, ordered and has been received.
PLSD reported that it will cost between $200,000 to $270,000 to repair the digester they have been using for approximately 16 years. They say it is a question of spending money to repair the equipment or going with newer technology.
In November Board Member Meier motioned for the district manager to purchase a Roto Tub Grinder not to exceed $22,000 and a Roto Mixer not to exceed $58,000. Board Member Place seconded. Board Member Kengla motioned for the district manager to purchase an appropriate tractor not to exceed $65,000. Board Member Place seconded. After further discussion Board Member Kengla amended the amount to purchase not to exceed $74,000. Board Member Place seconded, according to the meeting minutes. This new equipment would replace the digester.
“The digester is still up and running; it still has useful life but we are moving toward different technology to do the same thing – trying to find new technology (at) a fraction of the cost of electricity,” board member Kris Kengla told the Independent after the December meeting.
The Save Our Digester group wants answers and is not only asking the questions but also doing the research.
Posted on the Independent’s Facebook page in response to the Dec. 27 article, Ellen Atkin wrote, “The PLSD ratepayers have bought and paid for, invested in, a multi-million dollar custom-built Eweson Digester and its proven supporting process improvements. We are sixteen years into the life of the digester, longer for the supporting capital improvements, and yet, we are buying replacement equipment and ‘experimenting’ with supporting processes.”
District Manager Dave Smith said, “If it is such great technology, why doesn’t Snowflake and Taylor and Show Low do it? How come nobody else uses it? What do other people do with compost municipal waste? Look at that.”
Smith says that he is trying to work with people who have concerns.
“When I gave my number out at the board meeting,” explained Smith, “and said if anyone wants to discuss anything with me, that was meant for anyone in attendance that night, not the 8,200 people in the district. I meant one-on-one. I have no problem talking to anyone who has an honest, legitimate issue and is not just looking to find fault.”
“If you research our board members, you will see they have been around for a long time. They are a great board. They have their own thoughts and opinions. I am not leading them to do what I want,” he added.
Gary Atkin, a former district manager and former board member for PLSD, and a Save our Digester member, says he submitted requests for information about nine items, and eight are outstanding. The one item that has been fulfilled is that of meeting minutes. Atkin said he has been been reviewing the PLSD minutes at their office. Ellen Atkin has submitted two formal requests and has received one to date. She has also been able to go in and review minutes on site. Atkin mentioned that it says requests will be filled within a reasonable time.
Smith said he thought they had complied with all of Atkin’s requests, and reasonable time depends on the request.
Smith explained that after each board meeting someone transcribes the minutes and a week later they go to the board for review and any possible changes. Then they go to the attorney, because they have a new employee doing them. After they are approved by the board they post them on the website the next day. They have the minutes all the way back to when the district was formed. The December meeting minutes, however may be somewhat delayed.
The January meeting is on the calendar for Jan. 8 but as of right now, Smith says there is no business to place on the agenda and a cancellation notice will be posted. That means the December minutes will not be approved by the board until the February meeting which makes them unavailable for two months.
According to Smith, though meeting notices are only required 24 hours in advance of a meeting, he usually has them posted the Thursday before. If he has not received agenda items for the meeting from the board by that Thursday before, he checks with Chairman Neil Whittle. When there is nothing on the agenda, the meeting is canceled.
Smith said Whittle says they will not have a meeting just to have a meeting. There is, however, still time to post the agenda should anything change.
If a cancellation of the Jan. 8 meeting is posted, it looks like there will be a lot of one-on-one visits to the PLSD office and possibly a very lengthy Call to the Public at the Feb. 12 board meeting.