Boulder Annexation Inquiries Surge After Flood

By ERICA MELTZER, Daily Camera | December 13, 2013

September’s floods did a number on the wells and septic systems of many Boulder County residents, with testing still revealing contamination in some wells nearly three months later.

That damage has led to a surge of inquiries about annexation into the city of Boulder, Colo., from people who have typically been wary of city government but now see the appeal of getting city water and sewer service.

But the cost can be prohibitively expensive for many homeowners, and it’s not clear how many properties will ultimately be added to the city as a result of the floods.

FEMA's Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) conduct door to door checks in left hand canyon Photo by Michael Rieger/FEMA
FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) conduct door to door checks in left hand canyon Photo by Michael Rieger/FEMA

Boulder city planner Chris Meschuk said annexing and connecting to city utilities can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $120,000 per house, depending on what infrastructure already exists in the area and how far sewer and water lines have to be extended.

The typical cost is between $45,000 and $50,000 per house.

City planners are currently assessing the costs and financing options for roughly 40 properties. That compares with two to five annexations processed by the city in a typical year.

Back in 2010, the city annexed 35 homes while allowing some residents to keep their more rural streets without sidewalks and street lights.

Though that annexation preceded the flood by years, several residents there had failing septic systems, and county regulations strongly discourage putting new septic systems in the flood plain.

Planners said that annexation could provide the model for an annexation of 28 more homes where residents already have city sewer but are on private wells, some of which are still contaminated after the South Boulder Creek flooded the area.

At a recent City Council meeting, council members said they are sensitive to the public health issues involved and are open to annexing the properties of interested homeowners, but those homeowners need to pay the full cost of installing city connections.

“From my perspective, with some of these really close-in enclaves, it’s a public health issue,” Councilwoman Lisa Morzel said. “You have shallow water tables. You have leaking septic systems. That’s not good public health. But we can’t afford to finance all these annexations.”

Jacqueline Olmsted, who has lived on Old Tale for more than 40 years, is adamant about staying in the county. She has problems with her well after the flood and would pay to get city water, but she doesn’t want to annex.

Cost is one reason. The 60-foot easement the city could want along South Boulder Creek, taking up more than half her backyard, is another.

“I don’t see why we should have to annex to get city water,” she said.

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