City rents house to secure sewer plant

Caretaker also watches over the test poplar tree site

DALLAS -- Dallas officials will continue renting a house near Orrs Corner Road as part of a plan to prevent vandalism at its sewer treatment plant and experimental poplar plantation. The tenant -- a city employee -- will pay a reduced rent in exchange for watching the facilities.

Al Knox, former assistant to City Manager Roger Jordan, had lived in the house until his recent retirement. Jordan is interviewing potential tenants.

At the Oct. 6 City Council meeting, Dallas resident David Shein questioned the cost and usefulness of the setup. The house is more than 300 yards from the poplar trees and farther still from the treatment plant, Shein said.

The trees themselves could obscure a trespasser. A fence surrounds the three-acre plot of poplars.

Dallas officials irrigante the trees with industrial waste deemed too dangerous to release to Rickreall Creek. The plantation serves to test whether poplar trees can effectively absorb harmful waste components.

If the test proves successful after two more years, Dallas officials want to expand the project to around 100 acres. Opponents had delayed the project, claiming it would pollute water and farmland.

The extra attention on the plantation led to questions of its security. Shein argued that a single caretaker nearby the site can't prevent sabotage.

The caretaker house is just one part of a larger security plan, Jordan said. The City also uses alarm systems, monitoring systems, fencing and security checks, he said.

Having a trusted employee near city facilities also helps, said Councilor Warren Lamb. "We purchased that to have better control over who's going to be our neighbor."

The City bought the house and surrounding yard around three years ago for around $200,000. The roughly three-acre parcel also holds storage buildings for City use.

Dallas spent around $65,000 renovating the house. It will rent for $600 a month.

Community Development Director Jerry Wyatt found the house ordinarily would rent for $750 to $850. The caretaker's duties would make up the difference.

Jordan said buying and maintaining the house will prove worth the cost. Having a presence there helps protect the $1 million invested in the poplar project.

If a larger poplar plantation proves unfeasible, Jordan said, Dallas could sell the house. "It's a very attractive property," he said.

Councilor Brian Dalton had asked about selling the house and using the money for the City's trail system. However, since the City bought the house out of the sewer fund, Jordan said, a sale would return money to the same fund.

Dalton said he didn't oppose renting out the house, but wanted to make sure it would be useful. The City does not rent out other houses.

"Government ownership needs to have a real strong public purpose and you need to review that constantly," Dalton said. "It's an unusual situation for the City of Dallas to be a landlord and obviously that's something we need to monitor."

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