May 8, 2010
Sewer plant needs costly upgrades
City will need to borrow millions to meet new federal regulations
The Cortland Waste Water Treatment Facility needs to upgrade the equipment it uses to treat wastewater to meet anticipated federal and state environmental regulations and replace its 70-year-old equipment.
The upgrades need to be done in two phases so that the plant could meet one set of requirements by 2011 and meet a more stringent set of requirements by 2013, said Harvey Davis, chief operator of the plant. Davis estimates that the first project will cost more than $400,000. One engineer estimated that the second project could cost as much as $10 million.
Davis said the city would bond for both projects and pay for them over a 15- or 20-year period. Davis said the city also needs to replace the 70-year-old digestors in the plant within the next 24 months — a project that an engineering firm estimated will cost an additional $8 million. The money to replace the digestors, which are used to remove pathogens from waste water, would be included in one of the two bonds, he said.
The plant will need to reduce the levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and alkalinity from the water it pumps into the Tioghnioga River, Davis said. The river eventually leads into the Chesapeake Bay, where contamination has prompted the new requirements.
Davis said the digestors should have been replaced in the 1970s, and added that the new requirements will create more sludge, or waste, and increase the demand on the digestors.
Davis said the Cortland plant is one of 28 plants in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed that will need to meet the new requirements. He said the Cortland plant ranks fifth among the plants in the nitrogen and phosphorous content of its treated water.
Other municipalities that the plant serves, including Corlandville and the villages of Homer and McGraw, have contracts with the city that include a portion for operation and maintainance and a portion for debt service. The municipalities would pay toward the bond in the debt service portion.
City residents pay toward debt from waste water projects through special assessments included in their tax bills each year.
The city Common Council approved Davis’ request for a $60,000 engineering study to determine the cost of the first project. The study will most likely be completed in four to six weeks, Davis said Wednesday.
After the study is completed, the city will need to buy the new required equipment, install it and get it running by April 1, 2011, when the first set of new regulations take effect, Davis said.
The original $400,000 estimate for that work does not include the cost of installing the equipment, which will be determined when companies bid on the project, Davis said. The DEC also has to approve that plan and determine that it would achieve the required levels, he said. The $400,000 estimate does not include the cost of the engineering study.
The city will have to order another engineering study to find out what kind of work will be needed to meet the second set of requirements, Davis said. Stearns and Wheler, an international engineering firm that has an office in Cazenovia, made a $10 million estimate in 2002, but Davis said he believes that estimate was higher than the project will cost. It was done prior to the DEC releasing its requirements, which are still not available, and the sampling for it was done in Pennsylvania, he said.
“That was kind of a worst-case scenario, we believe,” Davis said.
But Davis said he expects the second phase to be a multimillion-dollar project. He said the city will need to bond for the project and that grant money will be available.
The city will need to bond for the first project, and its first payment toward the bond could be made in 2011 or 2012, he said.
Davis said he will also need to increase the size of his staff to meet the DEC’s requirements.
There are seven workers at the plant now and three unfilled positions. The council voted Tuesday to lift its hiring freeze to hire two laborers. Davis said he plans to ask the council to hire another laborer at the next council meeting and to hire an operator during another meeting to replace an operator who is retiring this summer. That would increase the staff to 10 numbers, the number in this year’s budget. He said the two new laborers will help, but will not solve the plant’s problems keeping up with its workload.
New laborers are to be paid $32,531, plus benefits, in this year’s budget, and a recently promoted operator is being paid $44,635, plus benefits.
If the staff returns to 10 people, Davis said he will need to hire another employee to carry out the first set of new requirements, and he will need up to 13 total employees to carry out the second set of requirements.
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