Laura Seyfang discusses slightly increasing SFEs with the Big Sky County Water & Sewer Board on Feb. 19 for the Big Sky Community Housing Trust’s current affordable housing project.

Deep diving into Wells 5 and 6

And other developments from BSW&SD February meeting
Board member Brian Wheeler pointed out that, while arsenic sounds scary, trace levels are commonly found in well water – particularly in the Yellowstone region.

Editor’s note: This article is a continuation of last week’s coverage of the Big Sky County Water & Sewer District Board of Directors most recent meeting, in which the board agreed to look into other options pertaining to wastewater treatment. 

The ongoing discussion of what to do about Big Sky’s less-than-perfect Mountain Village wells – known as Cascade Wells 5 and 6 – continued at the February gathering of the Big Sky County Water & Sewer District Board of Directors. 

Ultimately, the board agreed to table the issue until more research can be done and exploratory drilling can take place this summer in the effort to find a better water source on the mountain. 

The facts: Wells 5 and 6 will require treatment for hydrogen sulfide while Well 6 has further complications. A $1 million difference in cost was estimated between treating a water source with arsenic, like Well 6, versus a water source without that contaminate. 

Well 5 has better water quality that can be treated chemically, whereas Well 6 “has some complications in terms of increased turbidity (or cloudiness from suspended elements and salts) and the existence of arsenic,” according to Woodard & Curran Project Manager Steve Robbins. 

Board member Brian Wheeler pointed out that, while arsenic sounds scary, trace levels are commonly found in well water – particularly in the Yellowstone region. 

A meeting occurred recently between representatives of the BSW&SD and chemical company Carus Corporation. Negotiations continue with regard to using their mixed metal oxide for treatment of Well 6, if the board should head that direction. 

The board agreed it is reasonable to assume a well with similar issues could be found with other drilling. Ron Edwards, general manager of BSW&SD said Well 6 is a candidate for possibly drilling deeper, in an attempt to find the water before it hits the arsenic laden area. 

If Well 6 is pursued as it stands now, a $700,000 to $1 million project would be set in motion, including construction of a new building, a filtration system, chemical holding tanks, electrical upgrades, a chlorine analyzer, communications feedback, and so on 

Board member Peter Manka discussed the further complication of Well 6 being located downhill – it would have to be pumped up. “There’s quagmire on this Well 6 outside of water quality issues,” he said. 

Board President Packy Cronin questioned the cost-effectiveness of pursuing Well 6 in lieu of drilling somewhere else. 

Board member Bill Shropshire also voiced concern over the lower than expected flow rates, the presence of arsenic and overall cost. 

“There’s probably not a great chance we’re going to find anything better. We know that it’s a million dollars more to filter it than to treat it,” BSW&SD Water Superintendent Jim Muscat said, while pointing out that more water needs to be found regardless. 

Other district developments

The BSW&SD Board unanimously approved a sewer connection permit extension for Spanish Peaks Resort/Montage Phase 2 Hotel at the February meeting. Board President Packy Cronin explained that Spanish Peaks requesting the extension while still working; that the property isn’t just sitting stagnant. Shropshire said the company is also giving the district a “whole lot of money,” before he made the motion for approval. 

On the housing front, the Meadow View Condos – affordable housing being created by the Big Sky Community Housing Trust – had a small discrepancy between what was allotted for SFEs (single family equivalent – a unit of measure used to determine the capacity of water service required for a single-family household) and what the development will actually create. 

“At full buildout it’s 37.96 SFEs which creates a deficit of 1.66 SFEs, which is a 4.66 increase from what was originally allocated,” Edwards explained. 

BSCHT Director Laura Seyfang told the board that the goal of the organization is to make the condos affordable. Initially, three-bedroom units were proposed, but proved to be too costly for the average Big Sky household. So, the three-bedroom units were split into two-bedroom units with a studio unit above the two-car garage.

The organization is making these condos “deed restricted in order to keep them as workforce housing in perpetuity.”

“In total, we have 52 units and nearly 60 people who have qualified,” said Seyfang.  

The board unanimously approved Seyfang’s request to cover the SFE increase for the project.

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