Presiding County Commissioner John Griesheimer said he wasn’t aware that many of the problems alleged in a lawsuit against the Brush Creek Sewer District even existed.
City of Pacific officials never notified him of problems with the system, said Griesheimer, who is the president of the Brush Creek Sewer District Board of Trustees.
Still, Griesheimer said he does not “shirk” his responsibility.
But he said allegations that the sewer district has been derelict in its duties are false, because the trustees were not even made aware of the problems.
Griesheimer said county Commissioners Tim Brinker and Mike Schatz, who are the other two trustees for the sewer district, should especially not be blamed for any problems with the sewer system because they just took office in January.
Even though Griesheimer said he was unaware of the problems with the system, he said the buck stops with him since he has been in office longer.
Now that the sewer district is aware of the problems, he said the trustees are dedicated to fixing the issues.
Pacific last month sued the Brush Creek Sewer District for breach of contract, saying the district has violated the agreement that governs how Pacific treats sewage from the district.
Unaware of Problems
If Pacific officials had communicated better, then the Brush Creek Sewer District could have responded to the issues rather than being caught off guard by the lawsuit, Griesheimer said.
But Pacific City Administrator Harold Selby said problems with the district were communicated to the county. Selby added that there is documentation of the correspondence dating back to 2006.
According to Selby, infiltration of water into the sewer system is a big problem because it causes more discharge to go to the city’s treatment facility. The system needs to be fixed so water does not enter the pipes when there is rain.
Griesheimer said he heard nothing from Pacific officials about the problems from October 2011 to the end of January.
The county’s former public works director Rich Wilson had been in charge of fixing problems with the Brush Creek sewer system, Griesheimer explained.
But when Wilson left the county in October 2011, Griesheimer never heard anything from Pacific in terms of issues with the system.
Selby agreed that it is possible that Griesheimer was never informed about problems with the district. That is not Pacific’s fault, Selby added.
Selby thought Wilson may have brought Griesheimer up to date on problems with the district. But now Selby says, “I don’t think there was any transition of that information at all.”
Selby said he would have to go back and review his notes to see if there was ever any direct communication with Griesheimer over problems with the system.
However, Selby said the problems were discussed during meetings that Griesheimer attended when Pacific was in negotiations to buy the system.
Griesheimer said all he knew was that Wilson had been working on some issues associated with the Brush Creek Sewer District. But Griesheimer said he had not been apprised of the magnitude of the problems with the system.
For instance, Pacific officials allege that sewage has backed up in residents’ basements because of extreme flows sent from the sewer system to the city’s treatment plant.
But Griesheimer said Pacific officials never told him about the backups and that the first time he heard about it was when the information was printed in a Missourian article last month.
Griesheimer said he thinks Pacific must have assumed he knew that there were problems with the system when in fact he was unaware.
Selby agreed that Pacific did assume that Griesheimer knew about the problems with the sewer district.
It was not until January when there was a sewage overflow at the Shaw Nature Reserve from the Brush Creek system that county commissioners started becoming aware of the scope of the problems with the system, Griesheimer said.
Moreover, Griesheimer said he was unaware of the 2010 Buescher Ditch Report that was done concerning problems with the system.
Selby said he assumed the county knew about the study since the county paid for the consultant.
Selby added that he does not understand how an entity can own a sewer district and not know what is going on with it.
Part of the reason the Pacific mayor and aldermen wanted to file the lawsuit was to make the sewer district trustees aware of the problems, Selby said.
The problems between the sewer district and Pacific go back several years, Griesheimer explained. He said there were several efforts to sell the sewer system to the City of Pacific but negotiations broke down.
The last negotiation in 2011 broke off because Pacific made “unreasonable demands,” Griesheimer said.
Griesheimer said Pacific wanted sole authority to go onto Water District No. 3 property and shut a user off if it was determined that illegal discharges were being put into the system. Water District No. 3 provides water to the sewer district, he noted.
Water District No. 3 did not want Pacific to have authority to go on its turf to shut down anything without the water district also present, Griesheimer said.
But Selby said Pacific would not have minded Water District No. 3 representatives accompanying city officials to shut a user off. However, Water District No. 3 did not want Pacific officials on their territory at all, Selby said.
It is critical that Pacific have access to shut down an illegal user because the city will be liable if unauthorized materials are dumped from its treatment plant into the Meramec River, Selby said.
The contract between the sewer district and Pacific is worded in a fashion that only benefits Pacific, Griesheimer said.
Griesheimer noted that one term of the contract states that the sewer district cannot be sold without Pacific having veto power.
Pacific wants the district to fail financially so the city can take ownership of the system for a very low cost, Griesheimer asserted.
Selby disputed that allegation, saying, “If it fails financially for the county, it fails financially for us, too. We don’t want to see that happen.”
The lawsuit alleges that the sewer district breached the contract by hooking the Travelodge hotel onto the system without notifying the city of Pacific.
But Griesheimer said the city did not have to be notified because the hotel discharges residential-type waste. Notification is only required when a user puts industrial or commercial waste into the system, he said.
Griesheimer said the sewer district did not notify Pacific about hooking up the hotel because the city would have likely challenged the connection because Pacific wants the system to fail.
“I do not trust them,” Griesheimer said, adding, “We have to protect the interests of the district.”
Griesheimer said the sewer district wanted the hotel brought onto the system for numerous reasons including the financial stability of the district. He added that the state Department of Natural Resources had issues with the sewer lagoon that the hotel was using, and the county wanted to keep the business operating.
Griesheimer said he wants to pass ownership of the sewer district to Pacific or any other entity that would like to run it.
In terms of cost, Griesheimer said he would only want Pacific to assume the debt related to the sewer district including a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan and pay back money that Franklin County has loaned the district.
Griesheimer said $3.4 million is still owed on the USDA loan and less than $200,000 is owed to Franklin County.
Selby said Pacific does not want to take over the system until problems with it are fixed, and he said that is going to cost a “tremendous” amount of money.