JAL — Still, no new RV parks will be allowed inside the city of Jal.
With a six-month moratorium on new RV parks coming to an end later this month, the Jal City Council on Monday unanimously approved an extension for at least another six months.
Although a new man camp (or workforce housing) opens this year just outside Jal, more than 700 RVs supplement the current limited sleeping quarters in the community of 2,000-3,000 fulltime residents. The oil and gas industry boom currently under way has probably doubled the nighttime population.
The city’s strained “antiquated and inadequate” wastewater treatment plant, as described by Mayor Stephen Aldridge previously, forced the city to impose a six-month moratorium last summer on new RV parks while experts determine the next steps.
City Manager Matt White explained the difference between RVs and man camps.
“A man camp is like a house. It’s flow-through water. They don’t put chemicals in it. It’s basically either gray or black water, which doesn’t hurt your plant. (The plant) eats that bacteria and whatnot,” White said. “A man camp is a different story. RVs are what kills you because of the chemicals in them.”
White said users of RVs tend to use chemicals in their waste tanks. When the waste tanks are emptied into the city’s sewer system, those chemicals adversely affect the wastewater treatment plant and reduce its effectiveness in lowering nitrates and total dissolved solids.
“Our wastewater plant is not meeting the state requirements on total nitrogen and on the particles and whatnot,” White said. “We have to meet a certain nitrogen level to put that water on the golf course. We’re not meeting the nitrogen level — it’s too high. That’s the reason we’re in the process of doing a new PER (preliminary engineering report) to build a new wastewater plant. … So, to try to get that down, we don’t want any more RVs than we have now.”
While a new plant may take up to three years to construct, the city’s contracted engineers are testing the current plant to determine what may be done in the interim.
“They test everything. They look at the input and output. They test chemicals,” White said. “We ran a test for a week on everything going in there, then they sit down to try to figure out how we’re going to get to the level of nitrates and TDS down to what we need to meet state standards. … So, to try to get that down, we don’t want any more RVs than we have now.”
The preliminary engineering report, White said, is about half completed, with expectations of completion by May or June.
With the engineering only partially completed, actual estimates of cost of a renovated or new plant are up in the air.
“We don’t know because we don’t know what kind of system we’re going to have to build,” White said. “If we can use part of what we have now and just add to it, it could be $5-7 million. If we have to build a whole new plant, it could be $12-18 million. Who knows exactly what it’s going to be?”
Not all of the funding is likely to come from city coffers, though, since grants and loans are available from other sources, in some cases.
“We are already talking with the USDA about a grant or loan situation,” White said. “Since we’re in violation of the New Mexico Environmental Department regulations, it should put us in the qualifying phase for a nice grant. You don’t want to be in violation, but it kind of helps you.”
The city also is considering on upgrading the level of permit to be requested.
“There are different levels of permits. What we have now is a lagoon system that gets the water to where you can put it on the golf course. The next level you can put it on parks and whatnot,” White said. “With the different levels, you can actually get it to the point where you can re-use it for some things, but each one of those takes a lot more money and a lot more equipment to get it clean. We are looking at going away from the lagoon system and part of that is because of the RVs and the numbers we’re starting to see in our system.”
In other business Monday, the Jal City Council approved $176,000 to build a new splash-pad at the Jal Lake Park.
“We’re going to take another (splashpad) out at the north park and renovate that into playground equipment,” White said. “The state made us pull them both out due to regulations they put in after we had built them. We’re going to build a nice new one down there at the lake. (The city then would have) one big one.”
Finally, White said the city is on track to purchase emergency generators to handle power outage situations in the city’s water well field to keep water flowing as needed.
Expressing appreciation to Lea County Commissioner Don Jones and the county for providing $100,000 from the commission’s discretionary fund, White said, “We’re going to buy two more emergency generators to put out in the water well field. We bought one last year with the money he gave us and we’re going to buy two more this year. So, that will give us emergency power at the wells. We’re excited about that.”