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County wise to ink septic agreement with Lakeside

by Daily Inter Lake
| March 24, 2024 12:00 AM

Flathead County last week reached a deal with the Lakeside County Water and Sewer District to build and operate a regional septage treatment facility.

Make no mistake, this agreement represents a significant milestone in the effort to responsibly accommodate the county’s rapid growth while simultaneously protecting the environmental integrity of rural Flathead Valley.

Under the terms, the county will provide incremental payments up to $23.5 million to the district to construct a new wastewater treatment facility that will be able process septage waste, along with improving its ability to treat wastewater and increase overall capacity. The bulk of that cost will come from about $17 million the county was awarded from the American Rescue Plan Act, with additional funds from state grants.

The deal with Lakeside is a departure from what commissioners had originally planned. Last fall, the county purchased approximately 37 acres on Wiley Dike Road with the intention of constructing a regional facility on the property. The treated septage would have then been piped to the Lakeside plant.

Since then, however, the commissioners identified efficiencies and savings through contracting with Lakeside to handle the process.

While the path might have changed, it’s the outcome that matters in this case.

On any given day, up to 40,000 gallons of septic waste needs to be pumped from tanks in the county. Continuing to ignore that demand and potential stress on the environment from failing or overflowing tanks would have been a monumental mistake. 

Time is of the essence to get another facility in motion, and the commissioners made the right choice to form a public-public partnership with the Lakeside district.

Citizens for a Better Flathead criticized the pace of the deal, arguing that the Department of Environmental Quality’s review of the project should have come before the agreement was finalized. But the reality is the county needed to put some financial skin in the game before the Lakeside district could move forward with its engineering proposals. Further, a clause in the agreement wisely mandates that Lakeside must obtain all necessary permits with the DEQ, and if it fails to do so, Lakeside is obligated to refund the county its initial investment.

Flathead County’s growth shows no signs of slowing down. Getting this project underway sooner rather than later ultimately benefits every resident who values preservation of the valley’s public and environmental health, and the natural resources that make this area so special.