LUSK – While attendance at the first official public meeting concerning a massive $52 million-plus infrastructure project was sparse due to competition from the Niobrara County Fair, town of Lusk officials and Bruce Perryman of AVI Engineering presented the town’s roadmap to funding and constructing what is essentially a new town – from an infrastructure perspective.
The infrastructure overhaul would be completed in six phases. It would begin in Spring 2021 and the final phase would end sometimes in 2027. When it’s all said and done, the town would be equipped with a new 8-inch water main, 8-inch sewer main, new asphalt streets, curb and gutter, new sidewalks, ADA ramps, storm drain inlets and a 2-inch conduit, which Mayor Doug Lytle said would “plumb” the town for future fiberoptic internet installation. The project is bundled with similar projects in Van Tassel and Manville – but the big money will be spent in Lusk.
According to Lytle, the massive project would replace sections of infrastructure that could be up to 100 years old.
“This isn’t a want – this is a need,” Lytle said. “We’re at that point. Our city crew does a great job of keeping what we have going, and they’ve done that for a long time. We’re at the point that we’re going to have major problems if we don’t get this fixed, and then trying to get emergency funding and stuff like that becomes even a bigger problem.”
During his presentation, Perryman outlined several issues he and his team have identified within the town’s existing infrastructure. He reported on a laundry list of concerns, from improper road drainage, poor pavement conditions and a lack of sidewalks in some areas, to deteriorating utilities including manholes and inadequate fire flows in the town’s hydrants.
“This project actually started back in 2014, where we did a master plan on the town’s water system,” he said. “And out of that came some projects, but more importantly, we had a better sense of some deficiencies in the town’s water system. Last year, we spent quite a bit of time working with the town council and the mayor’s office and Public Works Department on kind of developing a plan for the town going forward.”
Of the concerns, the town’s fire hydrants were among the most serious.
“We identified 17 fire hydrants that had unacceptable levels of fire flow coming out of them, so they need to be upsized and modernized so they’re operating when you need them,” Perryman said.
Perryman also presented a plan for paying for the massive project. The project will be funded in large partly by state and federal grant funds and long-term loans. While the town will have to provide some matching funds, Lytle said he believes that about 75% of the funding for the project will be in grants.
The town’s voters will decide in November on a special use tax dedicated to the project, and a recent service rate increase will also benefit the project. The worst-case scenario for the town would be the absence of grants and loans, which would result in the need for massive increases in the rates of city services.
“We’re going to continue and it’s cheaper for the state and for the people in this county to get it done as quickly as possible in our five- or six-year block versus ‘well, we can’t afford it this year,” Lytle said. “It’s not going to get any cheaper.
“We would be looking at raising rates if we didn’t have the 1% special use tax. The council still plans on going forward. We talked about that, and the rates, the rate increases would be astronomical. You’re talking over eight years and I think it was almost $100 a month or more. for each for each service in town. So, that hurts a low-income community.”
If the project comes together financially, Lytle said it could be huge for the town’s economic future and boosting the town’s business park.
“The problem is having fire flow and water lines to it, so we’re looking at a redundant water feed going through that,” he said.
“We’ve got to have a redundant water feed and we don’t at this point – and that’s scary for businesses that would possibly come in who are looking at building. Plus, not having broadband internet that’s reliable at this point, which I know the county’s been working on. It’s huge for putting in things. It’s hard to attract businesses when you don’t have the infrastructure you need.”