Raymore discusses odor, term lengths

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The Raymore City Council met for a work session on Monday night to discuss two agenda items: the Owen Good force main project, and the amendment of councilmember terms.

Part of the fiscal year 2013 budget allowed for a study regarding the hydrogen sulfide discharge from the Owen Good force main. The main’s length causes sewage to be detained for a lengthy period of time, which is the source of the unpleasant smell near Sunset Lane and 58 Highway in Raymore. The odor comes from the hydrogen sulfide gas that is generated and then released at the discharge point in the stated location. According to the agenda, the gas “also causes corrosion in manholes and gravity mains downstream.” The City’s yearly sewage treatment has had limited success, and the City is looking for a more permanent solution, which is why the item came before the Council on Monday.

The City awarded a contract to HDR Engineering back in May, in order that HDR would perform a study on the Owen Good force main. Representatives from HDR presented their findings and recommendations to the Council Monday night.

The representatives explained that exposure to hydrogen sulfide can corrode concrete and metals, and may also create breathing difficulties, headaches, fatigue, and nausea for the public if exposed long-term to low or moderate concentrations. Brief exposure to high concentrations may cause convulsions, loss of consciousness, coma, or even death.

After monitoring two manholes with an average of 78 and 36 parts per million (though reaching much higher numbers at times), HDR named several options for dealing with the problem but recommends an ECO2 system with onsite generation. ECO2 will prevent the formation of hydrogen sulfide by injecting oxygen into the force main. The HDR representatives explained that the advantages of oxygen injection are effective odor control and low costs for operation and maintenance. According to HDR, the ECO2 system controls odors and hydrogen sulfide, and is also safer to handle. It involves the following estimated costs: construction and engineering, $547,600; estimated onsite annual operation and maintenance, $10,000; and estimated LOX annual operation and maintenance, $31,000.

City Manager Eric Berlin noted to the Council that currently the City spends around $58,000 on annual maintenance, and that the current maintenance is not solving the problem.

Councilmember Charlene Hubach commented that the City has an obligation to eliminate the health risk posed by the hydrogen sulfide discharge. “We don’t have a choice. We have to do something. We have to do it right now.”

The fiscal year 2014 budget has $600,000 marked out for work on this issue.

The only other item on the agenda was regarding an amendment of councilmember terms, as originally proposed by Councilmember Ryan Wescoat.

The proposal suggests a change of councilmember terms from staggered two-year terms to staggered three-year terms. This way, no more than three councilmembers run in any given year, and every third year, only two would run. City staff also explained in the agenda packet that a companion item to this change is a change in the mayor term, from three years to four years.

This item will be brought to the Council for voting during the November 25 meeting. If it should meet Council’s approval in its first and second readings, it will appear on the ballot for voters to decide ultimately if it should be implemented. Since the mayoral term and councilmember term are separate sections in the Charter, there would be two separate questions on the ballot, with the chance that one might get approved and not the other.

Wescoat explained that his reasoning for this amendment is so that a group of councilmembers cannot hold the City hostage. “Our current system actually jeopardizes our quorum,” he said. If his idea is implemented, he said, then the quorum will not longer be in jeopardy.

Councilmember Hubach disagreed, naming an incident in Raymore’s past in which the council was divided and refused to act until Cass County Prosecuting Attorney Chris Koster forced them to act upon threat of being put in jail if they did not.

Wescoat acknowledged the example that Hubach gave but said that not every case will play out that way. He later added that there is no way to guarantee only three members will be up for election at a time (with situations like Council vacancy as a Councilmember moves away, for example), but rather the “system should not jeopardize the quorum by design.”

He also said that, as the city grows, “politics is going to start playing more and more of a role,” and this is a preventative measure.

Hubach responded, “We don’t want the charter to be based on politics; we want it to be based on the will of the people.”

Wescoat explained, “Politics isn’t what created this suggestion.” Instead, he suggested this amendment to “help keep politics out of this.”

Councilmember Sonja Abdelgawad said, “I think the strongest argument for this is continuity.” She used the example of the roundabout to explain that, after working toward the roundabout project as a Council, new councilmembers were voted in and held up the project by retracing the Council’s steps taken before they came. This amendment provides for less turnover every year, which Abdelgawad suggested will make a “big difference on City business,” with “less backtracking…less time spent training new council-members…less time spent hunting down questions.”

Abdelgawad added that this step is simply a discussion of whether the item should be placed on the ballot, and encouraged getting it “out there” for the people to decide on.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Mayor Peter Kerckhoff drew Ward 3 to stand in for a 2-year term in 2015 and Ward 1 to stand in for a 1-year term in 2016. These wards were chosen randomly by lot so that in 2017, a regular cycle may begin, should the amendment carry through.

As mentioned before, this item will appear before the Council again on November 25.

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