NWC, city still negotiating over stormwater basin

Posted 4/11/24

After roughly a year-and-a-half of negotiations, Northwest College may be close to finalizing an agreement that would allow the City of Powell to build a stormwater retention basin on the north side …

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NWC, city still negotiating over stormwater basin


After roughly a year-and-a-half of negotiations, Northwest College may be close to finalizing an agreement that would allow the City of Powell to build a stormwater retention basin on the north side of campus. But some more details still need to be hashed out.

“While we don't have an agreement to bring to the board yet, we’re very close,” NWC President Lisa Watson said at Monday’s board trustees meeting, adding, “Getting the details right is very important.”

The city first pitched the basin to college officials back in October 2022, and has included the project in its budget the last two years.

With federal funds needing to be obligated for the project by the end of the year, “time is starting to run out,” City Administrator Zack Thorington said in a Wednesday email.

The gradually sloping, grassy basin would be constructed in a roughly 1 acre, vacant dirt area that sits east of NWC’s multi-sports court, between 10th Street and college parking; it would look like the existing basins near the Homesteader Park softball fields, along Seventh Street.

While the space would be under an easement, it would still be usable by college students, which Watson said is important to NWC.

As designed by the city’s engineers, the basin is only supposed to hold water for brief periods of time following unusually large storms. However, Watson said the college wants to be certain there will be no standing water, as that would create a liability and insurance risk for the college.

Watson said the college wants to know that the floor of the detention basin is at least a foot above the high water level during the summer irrigation season; she said that buffer should handle any fluctuations and prevent water plants from growing at the bottom of the basin.

Trustee John Housel indicated the college would like a study to mark the high water table before the project begins.

Asked about the college’s suggestion, Thorington told the Tribune that the city “would have to hear more about the study and the details to make any decision.”

He added that the city’s engineers who designed the basin “have extensive history and data of knowing how high the water table is in that area.”

Because the work would be funded with federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars, the city must “obligate” the funds by Dec. 31, with no additional costs allowed after that point, Thorington said.

The basin is just one component of a larger city project to fix a bottleneck in the current stormwater system; when there are big rain storms, the system gets overwhelmed by run-off from developments southwest of town, Thorington said. 

The work would involve installing storm drain pipe from the intersection of Division and Seventh streets to 10th Street, through the retention basin and on to a large storm drain on Absaroka Street.

However, “at some point I may be coming and asking, ‘Can we just build it without the retention basin?’” Thorington told the council in January.

At that meeting, Thorington said he’d been trying to get an agreement in place, but “there’s only so much I can do.”

Thorington said he’d revised the proposed agreement “at least five times to favor them [NWC]” and “I’m not sure what the hangup is.”

At Monday’s NWC meeting, Watson said the agreement has changed a lot since the arrangement was first proposed. For instance, they’ve asked for the city to add to their storm drain infrastructure to allow the college to connect to it and assist with the runoff. 

As the college moves toward a final agreement, ensuring an updated water table study is done is the final piece of the puzzle. 

“Making sure we have the water table properly identified has been the crux,” Watson said. “Make sure we get this right and it can serve its purpose when we want to.”

City and college officials have said both parties stand to benefit from the project.

For example, city drainage regulations require property owners to retain their own water, and the college could use the basin to offset future development on campus.

“Anything new that the college builds, they can actually tie right into that system,” Thorington said in January, “because it’s kind of advantageous for them.”

At the college board meeting, Watson said there are multiple advantages to the campus, but the architectural committee tasked with working out an agreement also wants to ensure it’s done right. 

“The attitude of the facilities committee has been to recognize that this project is in the public interest …,” said Trustee Housel, who sits on the panel. However, “we as a committee do not want to leave anything to chance or guess,” he said.

Watson said she hoped to bring something to the board to sign off on the project by next month’s meeting or soon after. 

“It’s taken some time to work out the kinks,” Watson told the Tribune on Wednesday, “but we’re getting there.”