BY APRIL EVANS
City council members conducted a public hearing Monday that allows them to apply for a $6.5 million low-interest loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to fund the next two steps of a major, multi-year sewer project.
There were less than a handful of people present at the hearing, which allowed for questions from the public to be submitted to the IEPA. Bob Kohlhase, a Farnsworth Group engineer who has been working with the city, explained the project.
Once awarded, the largest portion of the money will go for a major upgrade at the sewer plant, which has not had any improvements since 1982. Around $5.5 million of the loan money is earmarked for those upgrades.
They will be replacing the headworks, which will screen out pebbles, sticks, bottles and anything else that shouldn’t be getting into the treatment system. New internal pump stations will be added and the digester will be converted from anaerobic to aerobic, in order “eat” organics. A new blower system is scheduled for the lagoons and concrete structures throughout will be fixed. Systems will be computerized and automated and control panels are to be replaced. Also, a new effluent meter will be added to help get more accurate flow measurements.
The changes will make the plant more efficient and allow for greater capacity by taking storm water out and also keeping grit and other solids from clogging it up.
One of the 11 sanitary and storm sewer separation projects also will be paid for and completed under the loan. The Whittier Street project will take $1 million to complete and will divert 307 more acres of storm water runoff.
Two of the 11 separation projects already have been done by city workers on East West Street and Seminary Street, which diverted 44 acres of runoff from the east side of town.
For the Whittier Street project, 1,800 feet of 48-inch pipe will be run through town, picking up inlets as it goes. The new water collection system will be reestablishing the natural drainage way, eventually getting the extra storm water to the Ellis Branch Creek of the Little Vermilion River and keeping it out of the sewer plant.
This is the largest of the 11 separation projects, which are being completed in stages, including the sewer plant upgrade. It will be 15 more years before the other nine projects are done.
The $6.5 million loan will be paid off through bi-annual payments for 20 years at a rate of 1.925 percent. As part of the application process, the city agreed they would be willing to increase residents’ sewer bills up to $5 more, if they need to in the future to help make payments.
Residents have already started helping to fund some of the multi-year separation project and sewer plant upgrade by beginning to pay an additional $8.40 on their sewer bills two years ago. There was already a $5 sewer charge existing then, bringing the total charge to $13.40.
All of that $13.40 per bill goes into a separate fund that has paid for most of the engineering fees for the project thus far, more than $400,000. If the IEPA loan is secured, money will come from that fund to help make the payments on it.
Aldermen approved a separate increase for water and sewer bills earlier this month, but the extra money collected from that is unrelated to the multi-year water and sewer infrastructure project. Funds raised from the extra 50 cents on water and 50 cents on sewer bills monthly is to help keep up with normal operating costs at the sewer and water plants and increases there for things like electricity and chemicals.
Mayor Dennis Lucas said having residents pay more toward the sewer infrastructure upgrade is not something the city wants to do and they hope to not have to, but are willing to if necessary.
The IEPA has mandated that the city have a plan in place to separate the sewers and upgrade the plant and be working toward completing it.
Construction on the projects would likely not begin until late summer or fall 2013.
In other business, aldermen:
Conducted their last meeting with Cathy Jenkins, alderman Ward 1, who recently won a District 4 County Board seat. Jenkins was appointed to a two-year alderman term in 2009 and won her current seat in spring 2011, which expires this April.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Jenkins.
She said she is proud the council has been mindful of budgets and has been able to work together during her tenure. She’s also glad that the sewer project is on track.
“She’s done an outstanding job,” said Lucas. “I can’t say enough about her. I hate to lose her, but I support her stepping up to the county board.”
Lucas said he doesn’t have anyone in mind to fill the vacancy for the southeast part of town, but will move cautiously in doing so if interested parties come forward.
“I may leave it empty, vacant,” Lucas said. “It just depends.”
The treasurer’s position also will become vacant on Nov. 30 with the resignation of Sherry Serd. Lucas said he does have someone in mind for that spot and may appoint that person sometime in December.
Georgetown City Council meets at 7 p.m. Dec. 3 at the city hall.