How much did the public know about the $260 million dollar sewer plant expansion?

There has been a common theme from City Hall, Public Works and a majority of city councilors; The sewer plant expansion was being planned for a long time. Their evidence? The 5-Year Capital Plan.

While it is true that the studies were listed in the Capital Plan, unless you were a crystal ball reader, a genie or Gaia himself, as a citizen you would have NO idea what the study meant, what pricetag would be attached to the expansion, or when it would be started and completed.

Here are the graphics I created with the specific pages in the Capital Plans going back to 2015 with references to the Expansion (studies):

Click on each image to enlarge and read clearly;

Besides the fact that the information is conveniently buried in the center of the capital plan (which is well over 200 pages) There isn’t a lot of specifics.

In the 2015-2019 plan there is only reference to a half-million dollar study (Which would have been implemented in 2014). In 2016-2020, there is the exact same reference. In the 2017-2021 plan there is NO reference to the study. In the 2018-2022 plan, the study reappears and they FINALLY admit in the document that the sewer plant will have to be expanded (that was in 2017) with NO numbers on an estimated cost and finally in the 2019-2023 plan (prepared this summer) there is an actual plan for the expansion with a price tag of $160 Million (approximately). I find it interesting that in the 2017 plan (prepared in the summer of 2016) there was ZERO mention of a study OR expansion. NONE.

But let’s look at some public meeting video evidence;

The video below is the 5-year Capital Plan/Budget hearing from August 19, 2014. (FF: 1:09:30) during the Sewer presentation NO mention of expanding sewer plant except these words from director Cotter, “Key Projects” coming.

The video below is the 5-year Capital Plan/Budget hearing from August 18, 2015. (FF: 56:00) during the Sewer presentation there is a brief mention of a ‘System Master Plan’.

The video below is the 5-year Capital Plan/Budget hearing from August 16, 2016. (FF: 2:00:00) during the Sewer presentation there was NO mention of expanding the sewer plant. 

The video below is the 5-year Capital Plan/Budget hearing from August 8, 2017. (FF: 2:22:30) during the Sewer presentation there was mention of the life of the sewer plant running out, as the master plan identified, but nothing was said of when expansion would occur.

I even went back to the 2013 budget hearing. The video below is the Capital Plan hearing from August 13, 2013. (FF: 1:33:00) during the Sewer presentation there was a mention of expanding the sewer plant, and Cotter even said “It will be our largest investment” (gave no dollar amount) then said “We have captured the land for it and we will keep our eye on it.” but did not give a single clue of when that would happen only saying, “In the future.”

I also listened to the 2012 budget hearing, (FF: 2:07:40). No mention of sewer plant expansion, just arterial improvements.

While I appreciate being corrected that Public Works has been working on this for awhile, as we have seen in the videos above, the public certainly wasn’t aware of it. No press releases, no press conferences and certainly no final price tag or date of starting the project, or date of completion, only off hand remarks that it was being planned and coming in the future. Is that ‘COMPLETE’ transparency, integrity and honesty?

Obscure pages in the middle of a 200 page report and off-hand remarks in a once a year budget hearing held in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon doesn’t cut the mustard with me when it comes to open and transparent government. If this project was being planned (at least 4 years ago) why weren’t we made aware of it before building the Denty, the indoor pool, parking ramp or administration building? As Cotter said in 2013 “It will be our largest investment (in the sewer system)”. OK. Thanks for the heads up. But will it be bigger than the Events Center? Will it be bigger than the county jail? Will it be bigger than the School District expansion? Just how ‘large’ is this investment? We never even got an inkling until a few months ago, and those numbers weren’t even accurate.

I guess there is two schools of thought when it comes to government openness in city government. Mine is simple, open all the books all of time. City Hall’s philosophy is, if you want open government, you are going to have to look for it, and even than you will only get clues and hints.



#1 l3wis on 12.12.18 at 8:03 pm

I told Bruce that it would be like Cotter being your service tech while taking your car into the garage for an oil change. He would have said to you, “Hey, you are going to need new tires in the future, just thought I would tell you.” versus saying, “You are going to need new tires in about 3-4 months and they are going to cost you about $1500.”

There is a difference in how information is disseminated.

#2 anonymous on 12.12.18 at 10:14 pm

Why was the Director of Public Works crying crocodile tears at last Tuesday’s Council meeting!?

#3 MK on 12.13.18 at 3:02 am

Are you saying someone in Government lied by omission?

And guess what? Not one elected official is going to do anything about it.

And every director who behaved unethically under the last mayor won’t be held accountable now either.

Same sh!t, different mayor.

#4 l3wis on 12.13.18 at 9:06 am

While I will give credit (very little) to Cotter for talking about this over the past 5-6 years, there was never a start date, completion date, pricetag or how we would pay for it. You can’t tell me that 2-3 years ago Cotter didn’t know what this would approximately cost. He has worked in this industry most of his life, he knows what a sewer plant costs. He even said in 2013 “Our largest investment” in the sewer system.

As for leadership, a city official said to me the other days, ‘TenHaken will turn out to be much worse than Huether, just wait and see.’

He already has city hall on lockdown over a stolen coke.

#5 come on on 12.13.18 at 1:03 pm

Details on the coke incident please?!

#6 l3wis on 12.13.18 at 1:14 pm

Apparently the reason we have lock down and security officer at city hall now is because someone walked into Paul’s office when he wasn’t there and took a Coke out of his fridge. I guess they have it on camera but could not identify the perp. LOL.

#7 Taco Bar on 12.13.18 at 9:15 pm

Maybe the Coke thief is the same guy KELO is watching, who tries to walk into unlocked homes in Sioux Falls late at night…?

(“What did you get for Christmas?……. Oh, some bath bombs and a can of Coke….”)

#8 Warren Phear on 12.13.18 at 9:29 pm

Do you know what is really sad about this Scott? What you’ve shown is fact. Took a lot of work on your part, but it is fact. If you take the time, a lot of it, one can piece together the jigsaw puzzle between CIP’s and yearly budgets, and project numbers. It’s there. Just got to spend a lot of time digging thru it. Not your job Scott. That is supposed to be the job of our 4th estate.


#9 l3wis on 12.14.18 at 9:02 am

And ironically, the most openness about the project was in 2013 when Cotter talked about the size of it ‘The largest’ and that land was acquired.

I still believe that the past administration may not have told anyone to lie about the project, but I am certain they were encouraged not to openly talk about it in public except for a couple of minutes each year in the CIP hearing. Because besides those 4 video clips, I can’t recall any other time it was discussed on a large scale in public. If someone can find me the public meeting video proof, please do.

#10 D@ily Spin on 12.14.18 at 10:32 am

It’s infrastructure improvement and not more indoor play places or empty 3 story city offices. There’s value that facilitates and promotes growth. Anything government does costs triple what private could build it for. There seems to be no way to stop this. There’s more crooks in city hall than prisoners in the state penitentiary. If Cotter sheds a tear, it’s real. When Huether cried, it was acting and a 2 year old tantrum.

#11 Warren Phear on 12.14.18 at 10:46 am

There should be a video for this date.

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