After facing withering opposition to a proposed landfill on city-owned property off Old Lorena Road, the city of Waco has a proposition for residents of the U.S. Highway 84 West corridor: how about a sewage treatment plant?

The Highway 84 corridor and the China Spring area have experienced phenomenal growth in the past decade. So much so, in fact, that growth in those areas far exceeded projections from a city of Waco 20-year study in the 1990s and also from a city comprehensive plan from 2015.

Without roads, water, infrastructure and sewage treatment facilities, communities cannot grow. That is why CDM Smith, a prominent engineering, construction and consulting firm, has recommended to city officials that a new wastewater treatment facility be built on city-owned land at Old Lorena Road and Haley Hill Road.

The Lorena area farther south has felt the sting of infrastructure not keeping pace with demand. It was under a state-imposed ban on new development for more than five years, until a new sewer treatment plant opened in 2012.

The proposed wastewater treatment plant, if the city decides to build it, would cost about $15 million and cover about 20 acres of the 290 acres the city owns there. The land once was proposed as the location for a new regional landfill. The city already has a lift station in the area, and the new plant is proposed to be built on a small corner of the property just southeast of the lift station, Waco City Manager Wiley Stem III said.

Stem, Waco City Councilman Jim Holmes, whose District 5 includes the location, Assistant City Manager Bradley Ford and Planning Director Clint Peters set up a meeting with members of the Highway 84 West Neighborhood Association for Tuesday night in an effort to get out in front of the concept by launching an informational campaign and asking residents to get on board with the proposed project.

That is in contrast to where city leaders found themselves two years ago: in a back-pedaling, defensive posture, reacting to vigorous opposition from the same residents they now hope to win over for the wastewater plant.

“We will be meeting with the residents and we will come back to the council with some recommendations, and some of that will be what we hear from the community,” Stem said. “I do think it is a big step for Waco because of the type of growth we are experiencing, and all the positive things happening in our community require us to do these things. We want to inform the community properly and get them behind us.”

Holmes, who opposed placing the new landfill in his district, said he has not made up his mind on a location for a new plant, but knows that growth in the Hidden Valley, Sun West, Harris Creek, Twin Rivers, Stone Creek and other new and proposed developments in the area are going to require sewer system upgrades.

“We are going to take every step we can to be as transparent as possible,” Holmes said. “We want to get as much information as we can about the situation out there because the folks want to know about plans for growth.”

Holmes said the city can either select “the perfect spot” where the city wants it and condemn the property, pay too much for land at another location or use the land the city already owns.

“If those are the alternatives, I am leaning toward using city-owned land,” Holmes said. “That is the most efficient use of taxpayers’ dollars, and the ideal spot would be to put it where the current lift station is.”

Nathan Embry, president of the Highway 84 West Neighborhood Association, said Tuesday he welcomes the meeting with city officials and hopes area residents can be informed on the city’s plan. He said he does not expect to take a stand at the meeting and will just listen.

“We want to help and be a partner because we do live in this community and we understand things are changing,” Embry said. “If we need to be a part of that change, we are open to hearing the best way to do that.”

Stem said the unprecedented growth, which exceeded long-range predictions, is why it is more important than ever for the city to plan ahead to avoid potential moratoriums on development until sewer and water service can catch up. That is the situation developers in the Lorena area found themselves in for several years until the city of Waco built a wastewater treatment plant near Bull Hide Creek.

The city council recently approved an engineering design to move ahead with $20 million worth of wastewater capacity improvements in the Highway 84 corridor that will buy the city four to five more years while a long-term solution, a new sewage plant, is put in place, Stem said.

“When people hear wastewater treatment plant, they get concerned,” Stem said. “I live out there and I am not concerned about it. It is the responsible thing for the city to do because we can reclaim a million and a half gallons of water per day. If you look at water in Texas, Texas is short on water, and this helps us extend our water supply.

“This allows us to reclaim water and treat it and use it at least one more time. We can reclaim it and put the water in Lake Waco or reclaim it and use it in subdivisions for nonpotable purposes like for irrigation. It’s the responsible thing to do,” Stem said.

About 500 homes have been platted in the Highway 84 West corridor this year, Stem said, adding that there is more acreage for sale that likely will be sold for new developments. Currently, there are 1,884 wastewater connections in the 84 corridor, with projections that 6,700 more will be added over the city’s 20-year planning horizon.

“If it continues to grow like it is growing now, that is what we have to plan and design for,” Stem said.

Holmes and Stem said a number of new subdivisions across the state, including those in affluent neighborhoods, have wastewater treatment plants built nearby.

“There aren’t any problems as long as they are screened properly from the road,” Holmes said. “I am asking for extra odor control measures to be put in place. It costs a bit extra, but I think it will be worth it in this neighborhood.”

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Staff writer at the Waco Tribune-Herald covering courts and criminal justice. Follow me on Twitter @TSpoonFeed.

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