CAMP VERDE - The Yavapai-Apache Nation simply wants to improve its sewer infrastructure. But nothing comes simply.
A proposed expansion of the wastewater system in Middle Verde and the eventual abandonment of the wastewater facility near Interstate 17 has required the full alphabet soup of government compliance, from the Environmental Protection Agency to the National Environmental Policy Act and working with the U.S. Indian Health Service and even the U.S. Forest Service.
"We comply with a lot of regulations as a reservation," said YAN Vice Chairman Robert Jackson Sr., to make sure "it is built in the right place in the right way. We have to pass certain standards."
The project is in its infancy; ground has not even been broken. But it started getting more public attention with the required publication of a call for public comments by the Coconino National Forest.
Even the smallest impact on public lands from another entity brings the public process into the mix. That means the Coconino must prepare an analysis and open its doors to feedback.
In this case, the concept includes buried sewer lines and gas lines in a trench from Interstate 17 along Middle Verde Road to Reservation Loop Road, and along part of that road, too.
"It's less than five acres and it's along the roadway," Judy Adams said of the USFS land concerned. "They aren't disturbing new acres; it's just a new use."
Adams is the Lands Team leader for Coconino National Forest. She is in charge of any public comments that might come in about the project, at least from the Forest Service perspective.
The YAN has received comments, too, just not of the formal nature. Tribal members have been curious about exactly what the YAN government plans.
Officials say the Middle Verde facility is outdated and at "critical stage," without capacity to handle current use let alone future growth. Meanwhile, the I-17 facility is called obsolete and "in disrepair." It has a reported capacity of 80,000 gallons per day, but flow has been as high as 120,000 gpd. The plan is to construct an additional lagoon at the Middle Verde facility, install a pump station and transport facilities on the I-17 corridor, including the sewer lines and utility lines.
The plan is also to put to use a sewer line that was constructed in Middle Verde Road in 2004 and has been dry since then.
The expansion design will allow the Middle Verde facility to have a capacity of 350,000 gpd. It will be in a 12.5-acre site on the reservation. It is also considered "temporary" until future funding comes through for a mechanical facility.
According to the Scope of Work published in July, the I-17 corridor treatment plant "does not have an efficient means of disposing [of] the effluent. The effluent is currently disposed of through onsite evaporation ponds and hauling by truck 3.5 miles to the Middle Verde Treatment Lagoons. This project will abandon the obsolete I-17 Corridor Waste Water Treatment Plant and Evaporation Lagoons."
YAN officials point out that using lagoons for wastewater is nothing new and there are 7,000 similar lagoons in the United States. The Middle Verde lagoon facility is 677-1,158 feet from the Verde River but is not in the floodway designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The YAN must work within FEMA guidelines and their own standards as well.
"We want to be transparent. We want people to know we are on the up and up," Jackson said. "Water is the lifeline of the tribe."
The hope is to better serve the existing community and businesses and set the Nation up for any economic enterprises that might come to the I-17/Middle Verde Road corridor.
"What we're doing now will add even more jobs to the Verde Valley, not just for the tribe," Jackson said. "We're developing the infrastructure now."
For the project to even get started, the Nation must have FEMA analysis, archeological clearance, geotechnical analysis, biological analysis and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concurrence. All have been completed. The Indian Health Service has already given the go-ahead after reviewing the project's NEPA compliance.
Leaders want to have the project in operation by October of 2014.
For now, according to Adams, interested members of the public have until Oct. 1 of this year to get in any comments on the project related to Forest Service land impact.
Submit written comments to: Coconino National Forest Supervisor; Attn: Judy Adams, Lands Team Leader; P.O. Box 20429, Sedona, AZ 86341. Fax to (928) 203-7539 or hand deliver comments to the Red Rock Ranger Station at 8375 State Route 179 near the Village of Oak Creek. Comments can be phoned in at (982) 203-7506. Email comments in plain text (.txt), rich text format (.rtf), or Word (.doc) to email@example.com. Comments must have an identifiable name attached or verification of identity will be required. A scanned signature may serve as verification on electronic comments.
Bugle reporter Bill Helm contributed to this story