Time for state to take action on city plan

Thursday, June 24, 2004

At long last, the city of McCook has its act together on the water and wastewater issues, but now the state and federal bureaucracy is dragging its feet, causing considerable frustration and inconvenience for the City Council, the city staff and the citizens of McCook.

After a prolonged, decade-long debate, council members have decided that the city will resolve its water problems by drilling additional wells south of town, and -- when needed -- installing a treatment system. The city was forced to act by the Safe Drinking Water Act, which sets strict federal limitations for arsenic, uranium, nitrates and other contaminants.

During the past year, the city has also acted to resolve problems with McCook's wastewater treatment plant. The problems arose when the Republican River was declared a recreational area, making it necessary to put stricter controls on the amount of ammonia coming from the sewer plant.

When alerted about the ammonia issues, the city acted, voting in the summer of 2003 to do a pilot study and install diffusers to disperse the ammonia flow into the river. That study is in progress by Chris Miller of Miller & Associates.

On the water issue, the city took another significant step forward Monday night when members set the date for interviews with engineers interested in building the city's water treatment facility. The city was brought to this point by Greg Wolford of W Design Associates, the firm studying possible water solutions.

Even as the city goes forward, the problem is that the state and federal government are leaving the local council and citizens in limbo. Environmental officials are no longer talking to McCook city personnel, directing questions to the Nebraska attorney general's office instead. Even those inquiries have to be handled through prescribed channels. City Manager John Bingham tells his concerns to the McCook City Attorney, Rhonda Vetrofsky, who in turn relays them to the Nebraska Attorney General's office.

"It is a complicated and difficult situation," Bingham said. "We're doing many different things concurrently," including interviewing engineers, drilling test wells, testing diffusers, and looking -- long range -- at treatment options.

While it's difficult to communicate openly with the state and the federal officials, the city is trying to do its best because, in time to come, McCook hopes to have access to the state's Revolving Loan Fund to finance the water solution.

Understandably, the state and federal officials are cautious when it comes to McCook's water problems because this has been a long, drawn-out ordeal. But, it's time for state and federal officials to quit dilly-dallying. At last, McCook has a plan of action for water quality and wastewater treatment. It's time for state and federal government to take action so the city of McCook can move forward.

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