Fast-growing Horace worries growth will soon be stunted
HORACE, N.D. - This mostly rural city at the southwestern corner of the booming Fargo-Moorhead metro area is poised for its own boom, but it's being held back by one very basic problem: the sewage system.
HORACE, N.D. – This mostly rural city at the southwestern corner of the booming Fargo-Moorhead metro area is poised for its own boom, but it's being held back by one very basic problem: the sewage system.
"Horace's biggest challenge right now is wastewater and how we're going to do it," Mayor Shane Walock said recently. "It stifles our growth. It's a real tough scenario when you're a city like us that is small and gets that rapid a growth."
The city's lagoons, which treat sewage from a majority of city residents and businesses, is close to capacity and homes under construction now will use up most of what's left, he said.
Expanding the sewage lagoons could cost millions, but doing so would allow the city to remain independent of neighboring cities, a move some City Council members favor. Others want to hook up to the sewage system in West Fargo or Fargo, both of which have some capacity left.
Perry Ronning, a former mayor and current zoning administrator, said he hasn't had to turn away developers yet, but those doing business in town know about the sewage problem.
Between 2000 and 2014, the Census Bureau estimated Horace's population grew 178 percent to about 4,200, the fastest among cities in the greater metro area. In the same time frame, West Fargo, vaunted for its growth, grew 113 percent to 32,000.
It doesn't take many residents to drive up the growth rate of a small town compared to a city, but it shows the demand for the kind of rural lifestyle Horace offers.
There are more than 100 lots available for development in the city, but the lagoons can handle only about 70 more homes, according to Ronning and Walock.
Developers can still build homes with septic systems. Ronning and Walock say there are many reasons why they wouldn't want to. Septic tanks increase the cost of a home and require large drain fields, so fewer homes can be built on the same tract.
Walock didn't have an exact cost for expanding the lagoons and Damon DeVillers, the city engineer, didn't return calls for comment. The mayor indicated it would cost more than hooking up to West Fargo's or Fargo's sewage treatment system.
Ronning said it wouldn't be hard for the city to do that where it abuts Fargo's Deer Creek neighborhood and a fast-growing area around West Fargo's new Legacy Elementary School. It just depends on which side sees more growth first.
Horace officials have been speaking informally with its neighbors about sewage treatment.
Chris Brungardt, West Fargo public works director, and Jim Hausauer, Fargo wastewater utility director, each said their systems can handle Horace's waste in the short term but they'd have to expand as Horace grows. They'd have to expand anyway because both cities are growing; Horace would require them to grow faster.
"If you look at land they have in Horace, actually, that could be a pretty decent size city," Hausauer said.
Horace is only about 4 square miles smaller than West Fargo.
The West Fargo School District, which includes Horace, is also looking at the city's growth.
Business Manager Mark Lemer said the bond referendum up for a vote in November would add five classrooms to the 10 now at Horace Elementary School, but that's part of a plan to return kindergarten to neighborhood schools and leave a bit of room for growth.
In the long run, if Horace grows to its full potential, the school district has plans to increase the number of classrooms there to 25, which would likely require another referendum, he said.
The district also own land in Horace where it can build other schools, but that would be to accommodate enrollment growth throughout the district, not just Horace, Lemer said.
City leaders have been talking about sewage capacity since at least 2007, but it appears to be more urgent now.
"To make a decision to move forward, whatever you do takes time," Walock said, meaning the time it takes to create special assessment districts to pay for the project. He said he wished it were done tomorrow. "The urgency is it will stunt our growth."