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Top Arizona Department of Water Quality officials held a second open house and public commentary at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, at the Sedona Red Rock High Schoolcampus.

By Chelsea DeWeese
Larson Newspapers

Following the latest heated public meeting regarding a proposed wastewater treatment plant near Oak Creek, state water officials will once again process public commentary on the proposal before ultimately issuing a final permitting decision in approximately late November.

Top Arizona Department of Water Quality officials held a second open house and public commentary at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, at the Sedona Red Rock High School campus.

This latest meeting focused on a second — and considerably more stringent — proposed aquifer protection permit for the wastewater plant, which would service the Bella Terra on Oak Creek subdivision off Upper Red Rock Loop Road south of Sedona, which is yet to be built.

The usual players arrived en masse Wednesday to either tout or denounce the much-debated wastewater treatment plant.

But the conversation?s tenor has turned legal now that a large, outside environmental protection group has entered the fray.

The Sierra Club, through attorney Howard M. Shanker of Tempe-based The Shanker Law Firm, is voicing substantial opposition to the project.

And hinting at a lawsuit —should it be approved.

?We [the Sierra Club and the Red Rock Rural Community Association] submitted detailed comments in opposition to Bella Terra?s Aquifer Protection Permit,? Shanker wrote in an e-mail. ?If the agency issues the permit in spite of our comments, we intend to challenge it. We also intend to look closely at all of Bella Terra?s environmental obligations and to ensure that they are met. The fact remains, however, that regardless of permitting status, this is not a good place to put a subdivision with a wastewater treatment plant.?

Joe Galli, a spokesman for Bella Terra on Oak Creek

developer BySynergy, did not comment on the prospect of a lawsuit, but said that the quality of the proposed aquifer protection permit, which was drafted by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, speaks for itself.

ADEQ Spokesman Cortland Coleman could not be reached for comment by press time.

Aquifer protection permits, distinct to Arizona, are issued by ADEQ and are a prerequisite to building any type of water discharge facility — such as a wastewater treatment plant.

Aquifer protection permits, or APPs, detail the environmental regulations that such operations are subject to.

In the case of Bella Terra on Oak Creek, the Bella Terra Wastewater Reclamation Facility would service approximately 109 single family residences at build-out and treat a maximum of 24,910 gallons of domestic wastewater per day.

The wastewater would be disinfected using ultraviolet light, not chlorination, largely believed to have less environmental impact.

The treated wastewater, called effluent, would then be disposed of via a subsurface drip irrigation system — with drip tubing buried approximately one foot underground — on three separate sections of land on the Bella Terra property.

These disposal fields would be used on a rotating basis according to the APP. They would absorb and eliminate through evapotranspiration approximately 0.366 gallons per square foot per day.

Should Bella Terra developers use treated effluent to water landscaping, as they?ve proposed in the past and as is allowed for in the APP, that amount would drop to approximately 0.219 gallons per square foot per day.

The effluent would be monitored at a sentinel well on site and must meet class A+ standards, the highest in the state.

Many of the aforementioned environmental regulations were added to this most-recent draft APP issued by the ADEQ, which was the subject of public commentary Wednesday.

An earlier APP drafted by the agency was subject to public commentary during July.

A similarly heated public meeting held July 21 caused the agency to revisit the original permit and strengthen the standards, according to ADEQ Director Steve Owens.

Owens, during a previous interview, said the draft APP for the Bella Terra Wastewater Reclamation Facility is precedent setting in its protective nature.

?This is the most protective permit for a facility of this size in [the state],? he said.

Galli, the Bella Terra spokesman, said, ?This is one of the strictest permits that the department [ADEQ] has put forward in its history. And I think they?re proud of that.?

He said Bella Terra engineers and developers have worked diligently to make certain the proposed plant and disposal system are of the highest quality.

On Wednesday, public commentary varied from philosophic questions on the direction of water resources in the American Southwest to pointed concerns regarding Oak Creek, a state designated ?unique waterway? with special protections, and regarding the drinking water supply of existing residents of the Red Rock Loop Road Area.

Three drinking water aquifers are located beneath the proposed Bella Terra property: the Oak Creek Alluvial at 20 feet, the Supai at 150 and the Redwall Formation at 300 to 400 feet.

ADEQ will spend the next 30 days reviewing and responding to public commentary regarding the proposed APP. The deadline for commentary was Wedesday, Nov. 1.

Following that, the agency will issue a permitting decision.

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