WHEATLAND — An emergency meeting was called by the Wheatland Town Council to address the ever-worsening status of the Black Mountain water tower. The week that Platte County experienced critically low temperatures increased the stress on the tower, resulting in damages to the exterior; specifically, large chunks of ice pulled an access ladder off where it lay suspended in ice. Leaking water on other areas of the tower resulted in thick shafts and overflows of ice.
The council met to approve emergency funding through a grant agreement. Application for a Mineral Royalty Grant (MRG) is due February 15, 2024. MRG funding awards grant money to Wyoming municipalities to alleviate an emergency situation which poses an immediate threat to the safety of the town’s health or welfare, complies with federal or state mandates and to provide an essential public service. The state Loan and Investment Board (SLIB) is the entity which awards the grants.
An agreement with CEPI, a civil engineering company in Casper, WY, was also approved, in order for engineers to assess damages and perform testing. CEPI is a full-service engineering, surveying, landscaping, and architectural firm, and Ray Catellier, Project Engineer attended the emergency meeting to describe time frames and necessary testing. “We are working to identify well pump types and discover where existing pumps are most efficient. When the tank [Black Mountain] goes off line, we will know how well the other two pumps will be able to supply all of the demands of the system,” Catellier said. “We are also working with Sargent Drilling out of Nebraska and Rick Keck (water and sewer department head in Wheatland) to figure these things out. We want to make sure we are crossing our “Ts” and dotting our “Is”,” he added.
Once testing begins, each test could take 18-20 hours on wells 2 and 3, according to Catellier. “This will help determine draw-down levels on the aquifer.” Catellier explained that his team anticipates being able to add variable frequency drives to these wells in order to temporarily take them offline; the key is making sure the two wells can operate sufficiently once Black Mountain is permanently offline. “Within a month the testing should be done. We are working right now to get these things identified, and making sure public works and Sargent Drilling are comfortable with everything.” Catellier confirmed that SLIB was already familiar with the existing problem with the Black Mountain tower.
Also in attendance was Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray, who mentioned the possibility of applying for and receiving funds from the Water Omnibus Bill, which, according to legislation, is an act relating to water development projects; authorizing specified level I and level II studies; providing appropriations; requiring reports; providing for the reversion of unexpended funds; authorizing unobligated funds to be used to complete other designated projects as specified; extending reversion and study dates; authorizing a position; and providing an effective date. Catellier responded by suggesting that Secretary Gray attempt to gain support from any senators or representatives who would be in support of lending or increasing aid.
“This is a very big deal,” Gray said. “I would be happy to put a bug in their ear, as I do know a few. I do not think it is inappropriate to approach them, with the council’s blessing, and familiarize them with this project.”
Mayor Brandon Graves supported Gray’s suggestion and said, “Please pursue any good grace with the people you know. Sell our story. Absolutely.”
“It’s worth a shot,” Catellier added. “We really want testing done during cold times when people are not using a lot of water. If we do it during irrigation season, I’m concerned we’ll get some weird anomaly reading that will make our testing go haywire. This needs to hit the ground running full steam ahead. We are committed to that for this town.”
Graves agreed that timing was key. “We would like to do it in one fell swoop. We compromise fire and life safety. We have a middle school and nursing home services on that side. Our engineer is telling us we can meet the demand, but there are concerns if this is not done before peak irrigation season; and how can we meet the demand when we get to that point?”
Gray reiterated that he was happy to help facilitate. “Legislators are our best bet. Representative Jeremy Haroldson should be helpful as well as a few other representatives would want to weigh in.”
“Haroldson has always championed us well, and is a great help. He is an aggressive advocate voice,” Graves said.
The total project costs are $8,599,933.00. Some funding has already been secured in the amounts of $623,000 (America Rescue Plan Act; ARPA) and $1,677,000 via MRG. There remains a $6,299,933 unfunded balance. With two scenarios to obtain additional funds, the council must move quickly. Scenario #1 includes potential $2,685,000 through the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) which reflects 50% of funding necessary. $1,750,000 could also be obtained through SPET funding which leaves a $1,864,433 balance. Scenario #2 is where legislative support could come in. If the WWDC awards 67% of the funding ($4,199,445) and SPET awards $175,000,000, the remaining un-funded responsibility would be greatly decreased to $350,488.
The next regular Town Council session at Town Hall will be held on February 12 at 7:00