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City plans $16-million sewer upgrade, hopes for federal aid in paying for it

By Ralph Echtinaw

The likelihood of federal infrastructure grants in the near future has St. Louis administrators and city council members contemplating a multimillion dollar sewer system upgrade.

The goal is to increase the system’s capacity to handle large volumes that inevitably arise during periods of heavy rain or snow melt on account of storm water leaking into the sanitary sewer.

Steve Warren and Robert Czachorski of OHM Advisors told city council Tuesday that they recommend increasing the capacity of the city’s two pump stations and wastewater treatment plant.

They also recommend modifying the system to reduce its three river crossings to one. All three of the existing sewer pipes crossing the Pine River are lying on the bottom and encased in concrete. But current state law calls for such pipes to be five feet below the river bottom. And that’s what they’ll do with the single river crossing that replaces three river crossings. 

An arial view of the St. Louis wastewater treatment plant.

Although reducing the influx of storm water into the sanitary sewer will lessen the strain on the system during periods of heavy rain, OHM doesn’t believe that should be the main focus. 

OHM’s Czachorski said there are not enough accessible and cost-effective opportunities for that tactic to be a significant part of the plan.

But Giles says, “I don’t think we should ever abandon the efforts to reduce inflow or infiltration when it’s feasible. Each time we’re able to replace aging sanitary sewers, we are helping that cause, and sometimes we still find a stormwater inlet to a sanitary sewer that can be rerouted properly.”

The cost of this project is expected to be $11 million to $16 million. How would the city pay for that? Giles said “an SRF or USDA loan might come with a portion of principal forgiveness. I believe (Steve Warren) said it could be as much as 40 percent. Along with OHM’s efforts to look for funding sources, we will plan to explore any grant possibilities to keep the debt as low as possible.”

The project’s planning period will be extensive. OHM estimates 18-24 months from the start of planning to the start of construction.

Giles said “the overall project would be divided into two or three construction contracts. Our hope is that we could complete all phases leading up to the 2027 reconstruction of the two blocks of North Main Street.”

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