Archive for Thursday, February 8, 2001

City sewer problems prove costly

February 8, 2001

The DeSoto City Council spent money on the city's sewer plant last Thursday and will probably have to spend more in the near future.

But, the council learned the existing sewer plant can meet regulatory requirements with about $400,000 in improvements. That is a substantial amount, but much cheaper than the $2 million a new plant would cost.

City Engineer Mike Brungardt and Rick Bair of Mid-Kansas Engineering told the council the city needs to make improvements at the plant to meet federal and state ammonia and nitrogen discharge levels.

The ammonia level is the more pressing of the two concerns. Last October, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment gave the city a year to prove it could meet current ammonia standards.

Brungardt said that during the first four months of monitoring the plant hasn't performed well enough to satisfy KDHE. Should the trend continue, as the city engineer expects, KDHE has the right to pull the plant's operating permit or fine the city.

"We have to show the KDHE we can meet ammonia levels," he said. "We have to spend $27,000 to $28,000 to do that."

To that end, the city council authorized City Administrator Gerald Cooper to spend up to $30,000 to purchase two new aerators for the sewer plant and a feed system for the plant's sludge press.

Improving the plant's disinfection efficiency to reduce nitrogen discharge levels could be much more expensive, but the city has more time to work on a solution.

"Their (KDHE's) thinking was if we couldn't meet the ammonia limits, there was no reason to try for disinfection," Brungardt said.

Last October, City supervisor Doug Smith said that with the proper lab equipment and staff training he thought the plant could meet the state's nitrogen performance levels. Nonetheless, Brungardt told the council the city needed to develop a back-up plan.

Other cities have met the standards by installing anoxic tanks and an ultraviolet disinfection system, Bair said. Anoxic tanks expose sewage to an oxygen-free environment to kill bacteria that retard the break down of waste, Bair said.

It would cost from $325,000 to $400,000 to install the two systems at the DeSoto plant, Bair said. The state has a low-interest, revolving-loan program that cities can use to finance wastewater improvements. Bair estimated the cost of the improvements would add $2.50 to $3 on the normal residential sewer customer's monthly bill for the next 20 years.

The good news is that the plant is currently operating at only 60 percent of its 400,000-gallon-a-day capacity, Bair said. The two improvements would increase the plant's capacity by reducing the amount of time it takes the plant to process waste, Bair said.

"It should be five or seven years before you need a big-ticket item like a new ditch or clarifier," he said.

The city council has scheduled a work session this month to discuss its water utility. The issue is complicated by the unsettled status of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant's transfer.

The city is currently operating the water-treatment facility at Sunflower with the hopes that it will be transferred to the city. The transfer agreement Oz Entertainment Co. negotiated with the federal government did just that, but that agreement is dependent on the Johnson County Commission's approval of Oz's latest redevelopment plan for Sunflower.

Meanwhile, the city has made a commitment to supply Intervet Inc. with 30 million gallons of water annually should that company agree to locate in DeSoto. It is hoped revenue earned from the sale of water to Intervet would pay for most of the water line.

Brungardt said Mid-Kansas Engineering has been asked to submit a fee proposal for the waterline project, but added the city has not yet entered into an agreement with the firm.

Still, Councilmen Tim Maniez and Brad Seaman said they were unwilling to undertake something as expensive as the waterline project without a commitment from U.S. General Services Administration that the Sunflower water plant would be deeded to the city.

The GSA, in turn, is unwilling to make that commitment before an Oz decision is made, City Attorney Patrick Reavey said.

The federal government could deal with the property three different ways should the Oz proposal be rejected, the council agreed.

The most likely prospect is that the water plant will be transferred to DeSoto, the only entity to request the property to date. There is a remote possibility it could be deeded or leased to a third party should the Oz proposal not be approved.

Any entity that owned the water plant would have to provide DeSoto water should the city run a water line to the treatment plant, Reavey said. That wouldn't provide much solace to the city because it hopes to earn revenue from selling water produced at the plant to city customers including Intervet and, perhaps, other jurisdictions.

The council was more concerned the federal government might simply mothball all of Sunflower a development that would leave the city with nothing to show for its waterline investment.

The city council agreed a work session on the Sunflower water plant issue was needed, but no date was set.

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