Howe, Sherman wastewater dispute continues

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
The Sherman wastewater treatment plant has been treating water from Howe residents for many years.

After more than a year of discussions, Howe and Sherman have made little progress in resolving a dispute over unpaid water treatment.  Representatives for Sherman recently said Howe remains in debt related to sewage treatment dating back over two years.

In August 2020, Sherman officials said the city of Howe owed nearly $384,000 in debt in past wastewater treatment fees. However, that total has continued to rise amid heavy rains over the past year and issues with Howe's aging water infrastructure.

"Howe remains in arrears on their sewer bill to the tune of a half-million dollars, but we continue to communicate with their city leadership to find a solution that works for both communities," Sherman Community and Support Service Manager Nate Strauch said. "We’re hopeful to come to terms on a payment plan that will ensure the citizens of Sherman no longer have to foot the bill to treat Howe’s sewage."

As of Monday, Howe owed $540,000. This debt dates back about 26 months when the city was making payments but did not always pay the full amount.

“Instead of keeping current, they have just been paying a certain amount each month that may or may not cover the entirety of their bill,” Strauch said in 2020.

Calls to the city of Howe for comment were not immediately returned.

Despite the lack of visible progress in the dispute, city leaders in Sherman appear to have continued to talk about the topic behind closed doors. During the two most recent city council meetings, Sherman council members spoke in closed session regarding legal advice related to "Wastewater Treatment Agreement November 2, 2009."

City staff could not confirm that the item discussed related to the Howe dispute, citing executive session rules. However, staff did confirm that the date of the agreement with Howe matches the date listed in the agenda for the closed session.

Currently, Sherman provides wastewater services to two cities: Howe and  Knollwood.

In 2020, Strauch said the bill for wastewater services is calculated based on what enters the treatment plant through Howe's line. Officials believe that outside water is also making its way into the sewer line and flowing to the plant.

This excess load is not reflected in the rate charged by Howe to its residents.

Like many cities across the state, Howe is suffering from infrastructure issues which has led to some infiltration into the city's sewer lines by outside water, Howe City Administrator Joe Shephard said in 2020.

“If we had the funds to address the infiltration, then we’d have the money to pay Sherman,” he said. “We are trying the best we can to get this straightened out.”

During normal weather, Shephard said the monthly bill from Sherman could be about $30,000. However, this could increase to triple or more during the wetter parts of the year.

“We just don’t have the funds to pay that kind of bill,” Shephard said.