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Sewer plant fix faces more state setbacks
5/11/2007 By: Carole McWilliams
Bayfield town and sewer district efforts to fix sewage plant problems are caught in a stagnant eddy of state bureaucracy and a contract engineering firm that hasn’t been getting needed work done.
Those frustrations dominated Wednesday evening’s sewer board meeting.
Town and district manager Justin Clifton has been trying to get state sewer plant regulators to approve plans for about $500,000 in short-term improvements to the existing sewage lagoons.
Any changes in the plant or the way it is operated are supposed to have state approval.
“I’ve been going ‘round and ‘round with the state, especially lately,” Clifton said. “They were going to fax something two days ago. Then they said tomorrow. That was yesterday.”
He was hoping for Thursday to have a signed draft compliance plan from the state. The district submitted its plan in late March and has been haggling with the state bureaucrats over their counter-proposals, some of which Clifton considers unreasonable or unrealistic.
The town and district have focused plans on assuring clean effluent going into the Pine River, while state bureaucrats have focussed on controlling what is coming into the plant.
“I don’t think there’s any justification for some of the delays,” Clifton said. “It’s been continual. There are no legitimate reasons for it taking so long.”
He advised, “There are numerous reasons to be off the compliance schedule. (State regulators) were good with that, then they said your April numbers don’t look so good.”
That would be organic loading coming into the plant, the district’s ongoing permit compliance problem. The permit limit is 600 pounds per day. The district met that in March. But in February it was 1,200 and in April it was 1,000, Clifton said. “We are saying it will trend down” as the district puts the enforcement squeeze on a few commercial customers with very high organic loading.
District attorney Bud Smith noted the resolution already approved by the district board to lift a moratorium on new sewer taps as soon as the state approves the plan. Clifton noted the town board also will have to approve it.
The current haggling with the state deals with improvements to be done as soon as possible to the existing lagoons.
The other frustration Wednesday night was with the engineering firm the district board hired in January to design the state-of-the-art plant that will replace the lagoons.
“Do we have confidence in Stantec or not?” district board chairman Ed Morlan asked.
Clifton said it’s that, plus the question of whether the district will get the finished design sooner by staying with them or looking for another firm. That could be a three- to five-month delay, he said.
The work isn’t progressing, sewer board member Brad Elder said. “There were areas of concern that we are just a piddly little number on somebody’s list, and they don’t give a (expletive) about us.”
Board member Mike Hoban added, “We’re trying to decide whether to cut (the project engineer) off at the knees. He should tell us why we shouldn’t. I want him to work Saturdays until he gets caught up.”
Clifton said, “It has been clear that we are about to go out for re-bid.”
Smith said engineering services don’t have to go through a formal bid process.
The board voted to hire Southwest Contracting to proceed with cost estimates and cost-effective design. It’s an interim step to a final contract, Elder said.
The board also approved issuing a “request for qualifications” from construction contractors to establish a pool of bidders. Elder wanted Stantec’s name out of that RFQ.
Raising yet another concern, Clifton questioned the wisdom of designing the new plant based on the assumption of achieving a 300 milligrams per liter concentration of incoming organic loading.
The district is targeting identified high load commercial customers to do whatever it takes to get down to that level.
But designing the new plant for that is another matter, Clifton said. He presented information that even residential customers are above the national average for organic loading 60 percent of the time.
“I don’t think we can make the assumption of 300 mgl,” Clifton said. That is critical because assumptions used last year to select membrane bio-reactor technology for the new plant are no longer true, he said.
The board voted to spend around $10,000 to buy a water sample testing lab, partly because of the cost of sending ever more samples out for testing, and partly to learn more about what really is coming into the Bayfield and Gem Village plants besides food waste and sewage.
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