In the fight over whether Riverton will be home to a new sewage-treatment plant, the South Valley Sewer District is soliciting help in the form of a lobbyist or two.
Craig White, the district's general manager, said the district is in the process of hiring a lobbyist to work with the county government as the district goes through the process of amending the federally required 208 Plan, a general water-quality management plan.
White said the district "has some candidates in mind," but no contracts or agreements have been reached, and he could not name names.
A name that has been mentioned by those involved is Mike Zuhl, who ran Scott Matheson Jr.'s gubernatorial campaign. He confirmed that he has been talking to the district but didn't say much more than that.
"We've had some preliminary discussions, but we don't have a formal agreement," he said.
A group of residents has been fighting the treatment plant, which they say will be an environmental and aesthetic blight on the area, the Jordan River bottoms near 13500 South. The district says the plant is necessary, will be safe and will save sewage district ratepayers $1 million a year for the next 30 years. City officials foresee a boon to residents in increased access to secondary water for irrigation.
Jeff Salt, head of the Great Salt Lakekeeper organization and spokesman for the residents, questioned the district's need for a lobbyist.
"We think it's a complete waste of taxpayers' money to be spending on a lobbyist when the (county council) is not going to be swayed to make a decision until we go through the public review process," Salt said. "The public process will determine what projects are going to be approved. It's not going to be sewer lobbying efforts."
But White said hiring a lobbyist is not unusual.
"It's very common," he said. "Most municipalities use lobbyists on a regular, ongoing basis."
The Riverton Planning Commission on March 10 gave preliminary approval to the plant, in the form of a conditional-use permit, after several months of deadlock. The permit gives the district the go-ahead to begin making plans for the site but sets a list of conditions the district must meet before it can receive final city approval.
The 208 Plan became one of the kinks in the commission's approval process. Residents said the district was trying to bypass the 208 process, which requires environmental and other studies and county approval. District officials said they had intended to amend the 208 Plan all along but that the amendment wasn't a necessary precursor to the conditional-use permit.
White said the residents' early and adamant resistance during the conditional-use phase has been a burden on the district and ultimately on sewer ratepayers moreso than a lobbyist will be.
"The whole issue we've got is the need for a treatment facility, and due to the small number of property owners that have gotten involved and the amount of expense we've gone through . . . I'm not sure why they're talking about waste when they're the ones that have been forcing us to go through issues that are not required for a conditional-use permit," White said.
He said the fight has cost $100,000 more than it should have because of the resistance. The 208 amendment process will cost the district still more, which is why sewer officials didn't want to go through the process until they had the conditional-use permit in hand.
Neither White nor Zuhl gave a dollar amount attached to the plans for a lobbyist.
Salt and his opposition group are planning an appeal of the conditional-use permit approval. The group has 30 days from the date the commission voted to send a letter announcing its plans to appeal. That hasn't happened yet, but Salt said it will.
In the meantime, White said, the district is not sitting on its hands through the appeal process.
"We are now moving forward with the site plan approval process," he said.
A final site plan will have to be approved by the City Council.
The council has not yet voted or had much public discussion on the issue, but many seem wary of the plans.
Councilwoman Lisa Mariano worries that alternatives haven't been considered enough and that the city will lose more than it will gain."This plant is going to benefit multiple cities. We are probably the smallest of the bunch," she said. "For what we're giving up, I'm not sure it's worth what we're getting."