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Midway leaders say they want to solve wastewater treatment problems, not just mask stench

The Heber Valley Special Services District's sewage treatment ponds in Midway.
Rob Winder
The Heber Valley Special Services District's sewage treatment ponds in Midway.

Midway City councilmembers have heard residents’ concerns about local wastewater treatment ponds, and say they want to find ways fix the issues.

This spring has brought public outcry over the state of affairs at the Heber Valley Special Service District (HVSSD), the wastewater treatment plant serving Wasatch County.

Some Midway residents say the nearby treatment ponds have made them sick, and in late February, at the county’s invitation, a state toxicologist held a meeting to hear their concerns.

Meanwhile, the county has proposed putting the HVSSD in a special zone called an industrial protection area. At a Midway City Council meeting Tuesday night, April 16, city planner Katie Villani described public feedback about the proposal.

“A lot of the comments I’ve heard, or concerns expressed, is that the county might be looking to do this to basically protect against lawsuits related to people getting sick or something like that,” she said. “That is not what the law says.”

The designation would help guard against nuisance complaints, but it would not shield the district from liability for true health and safety concerns.

“It’s basically saying, if you move there, if there’s an odor or something that doesn’t affect public health or safety, but that would be considered just a nuisance, then that’s going to be protected in this zone,” Villani said.

Still, the Midway City Council decided the timing was poor, given the amount of controversy surrounding the district lately.

Councilmember JC Simonsen said he’d rather see the district commit to solutions for the odor first, before creating an industrial protection zone. That could include actions like dredging the ponds, an expensive and time-consuming process.

“It’s not reasonable the way it is right now… It’s not just a mild nuisance,” he said. “So that’s my issue – that categorization is only going to make it harder to argue... But I don’t know that it’s super responsible to take that approach right now.”

Mayor Celeste Johnson, who also serves on the board of the HVSSD, said the district wants to resolve residents’ concerns.

“It’s very important to understand that this board is 100% committed to solving this problem,” she said. “In no way did we ever intend for the industrial zone to be a scapegoat to keep us from having to do the right thing at the sewer plant.”

As the meeting wrapped up, one citizen, Kristy Councill, came to the microphone.

“I just want to say thank you so much for standing with Midway and possibly protesting this move,” she said. “We have felt very unheard. We have been dismissed.”

Councilmembers agreed they wanted to delay adopting an industrial protection area while they discuss ways to build back trust in the HVSSD. Johnson said she’ll share the city’s concerns with the district’s board.

Meanwhile, the state’s research into potential health risks associated with the ponds is ongoing. Residents can share odor complaints and health symptoms with researchers online through the spring.

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