Pledging to support, defend and protect the U.S. and state constitutions as well as the city charter, new Mayor Bill Cole and recently elected council members Frank Ewalt, Denise Joy and Penny Ronning — as well as Shaun Brown and Mike Yakawich, who won re-election on Nov. 7 — were sworn in Tuesday to four-year terms on the Billings City Council.
A packed council chambers gave the new officials a standing ovation, and people handed flowers to Ronning and Joy. The crowd then stood again to express appreciation for the work of outgoing Mayor Tom Hanel and former council members Al Swanson, Rich McFadden and Angela Cimmino.
“As the new sheriff in town, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to give credit where credit is due,” Cole said following the swearing in ceremony officiated by Municipal Court Judge Sheila Kolar. He offered what he called a “special shout out” to Hanel. “Rarely do you see a mayor with such a hard work ethic and devotion to duty,” Cole said.
After the new officials thanked friends and family in the room, Cole said it was time to get down to the business of Tuesday’s work session.
“If there’s nothing else,” he said, “we’ve got work to do.”
Indeed the council did, saving its most surprising news for meeting's end — that Ryan Sullivan, who represents Ward 4, will be resigning.
Integrated Water Plan
In advance of that news, the council received an update on the Integrated Water Plan, which is designed to deal with stricter regulations on discharges into the Yellowstone River as well as to help shore up the city's water supply during heavy demand months in the summer.
Louis Engels, the city’s utility systems engineer, said he pictures the problem this way: Every day during winter, the city’s water treatment plant produces 15 million gallons of water. To hold that water in a tank atop Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium would require a 30-foot wall – or a 120-foot wall during a typical summer day, when 60 million gallons are consumed daily.
When the city’s lone water treatment plant, which is more than a century old, goes down, residents, businesses and, perhaps most importantly, firefighters, can have just a few hours of water availability — eight hours in Zone 1, which includes downtown and the hospitals, 11 hours in the West End.
But talks with Knife River Construction and MDU Resources have produced a possible solution: Knife River has a 290 acre gravel pit — more than four times the size of Lake Elmo — that the Public Works Department is considering for offstream storage. An accompanying animation depicts what looks like a larger version of the Shiloh Conservation Area, with walking trails, fishing ponds and people enjoying nature.
That development would boost water reserves considerably, to about three months. It would probably require constructing a second water treatment plant, this one on the West End.
Public Works Director Dave Mumford said that the Billings Bench Water Association is open to allowing the city to use its canal “as a conduit” for stormwater, and state regulators — the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and the Department of Environmental Quality —“agree that it’s a very good use,” Mumford said.
The news on stormwater is also promising. Amanda McInnis, wastewater principal program delivery manager with the city’s contractor, HDR, told the council that water samples taken in the Yellowstone River indicate that reducing nitrogen discharges into the river “may not be important.” Further study is needed over the next two years or so, but “if that bears out, it could save more than $100 million” in required improvements at the city’s water reclamation facility.
Phosphorous, the other increasingly-regulated element, is “easier to fix,” Mumford said. Once it’s removed, it can be sold as fertilizer.
Mumford said the projects being described could be completed in as little as six years. He said he’d return to the council with cost estimates.
Ronning said as a nature photographer, she’s “so grateful for this stewardship you have for the Yellowstone River. And as a gardener, it’s really important to me.”
The first-term councilman plans to resign after the Jan. 16 work session to take a job as asset manager for an oil startup company in Houston.
“I’ve enjoyed serving the citizens of Billings. I’m really going to miss it,” he said following Tuesday’s meeting, “but I have to do what’s right for my family and my career for the long term.”
Cole asked City Attorney Brent Brooks for a memo describing the process for replacing Sullivan. “Basically, it’s a mayoral appointment which has to be confirmed by the majority of the council,” Cole said following the meeting. That must occur within 30 days after Sullivan’s departure, “or there’s a special election,” Cole said.
Acting City Administrator Bruce McCandless said that a staff report outlining the council's options and next steps for selecting a new city administrator will be ready by the council's Jan. 22 business meeting.