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Posted on: February 24, 2023

Public meeting in Keats to discuss updates to sanitary sewer system

commuity lagoon in Leonardville

(Riley County, KS – February 24, 2023) Property owners in and around Keats are being notified by mail of an upcoming public meeting to discuss the Keats Sewer Benefit District. The meeting will be held at 7:00 PM on Thursday, March 9th at the Keats-Riley United Methodist Church, located at 3191 Keats Avenue. 

At the meeting, Riley County staff and officials will share updates about plans to modernize the sanitary sewer system in the Keats Sewer Benefit District. 

“After several years of analyzing options, costs, and funding mechanisms, the County sought to move forward with sanitary sewer collection and pump to the City of Manhattan Wastewater Treatment Facility,” said Amanda Webb, Director of Riley County Planning & Development. “However, due to rising costs, material delays, and labor shortages, the county is re-evaluating the community lagoon option.” 

County officials are working to locate a suitable space for the lagoon as well as continuing to research grant and loan opportunities to help finance the project.  

“Both options represent multi-million-dollar projects that the benefit district residents must ultimately pay for over time. Each homeowner would also be required to pay monthly user and maintenance fees,” said Webb.

The need for a new plan arose as septic systems in the area began reaching the end of their use and failing. Lot sizes in Keats do not meet minimum requirements to install replacement septic systems according to modern environmental standards. Homes without working sanitary sewer systems are not habitable and must be vacated.

“When the Rock Island Railroad laid out the homesites for the Keats community in 1887, there was no indoor plumbing, zoning, or sanitary regulations so lot sizes and on-site sewage disposal were not considered. Later, septic systems were used that had a maximum life expectancy of approximately 20 years. As these systems have begun to fail, they cannot be replaced because most of the lots within the Keats community are too small to meet the space requirements of current state and county regulations. Riley County has granted some temporary variances to county regulations but cannot waive state regulations,” said Webb.

The county is working to locate the ten acres necessary to support a lagoon to serve the Keats benefit district. If a property owner is interested in supporting the project, the location will be evaluated prior to negotiations to determine if the physical characteristics of the ground (including soil texture and structure, depth of groundwater and seasonal water table, and presence of bedrock) can support a lagoon. 

The lagoon would be a state regulated and permitted project that is county maintained. Lagoons must be fenced, gated, and maintained (to include seeding and mowing). There are several private and public lagoons currently being used within Riley County. The cities of Randolph, Riley, and Leonardville each have three-cell lagoons that serve their communities. A lagoon services Riley High School and is located south of their athletic field. Many private property owners in the county have lagoons that have not proven to be disruptive to neighbors.

“Every effort would be made to choose a location that would minimize odors and limit the impact to adjacent property owners through vegetative screening and wood/colored fencing. As it would be a state permitted lagoon, it would be required to meet all KDHE standards and regulations,” said Webb.

The Keats Sewer Benefit District was created by the Riley County Board of County Commissioners in October 2018 after more than 51% of affected property owners signed the petition.

“This is a very serious issue we’ve been evaluating for several years,” said Riley County Commission Chair Kathryn Focke. “If the sanitary sewer problem is not resolved, people may lose their homes and the Keats community could cease to exist in its current form. We’re doing everything we can to make sure residents are safe and the community can remain. The lagoon option will be an effective solution – we just need to locate the most viable piece of property.”

To request information about lagoon requirements or discuss supporting the project through land sales, contact the Planning & Development Office by calling 785-537-6332 during regular business hours. 

Find more information about county regulations for environmental health and safety.

black and white photo of people standing in front of storefront

Historic photo of Harner's Store in Keats circa 1919

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