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City hopes to begin $41 million, 3-year sewer improvement project next year

By Ralph Echtinaw

A $41.1 million, three-year sewer and wastewater treatment plant upgrade in St. Louis may begin next year if the financing comes together.

The city expects to makes a loan application to state government’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund this week and should learn if it is approved in August. The CWSRF generally makes loans with interest rates around 2.5 percent. “CWSRF loans money to communities but it’s also the mechanism to obtain grant dollars in the form of principal forgiveness, which is really what we would hope for,” said City Manager Kurt Giles via email. 

If the city achieves its goal of “principal forgiveness,” meaning the city would merely pay the interest on the loan, homeowners will not be charged more, Giles said. “If project funding turned out to be 100% grant, then there wouldn’t be any rate adjustment attributable to paying off the debt.”

Aerial view of wastewater treatment plant.

If the grant is less than principal forgiveness, city council members will have to decide if they want to raise sewer and water rates to cover the payments or scrap the program.

Steve Warren of the civil engineering firm OHM made a presentation on the project to city council Tuesday, April 18. “The city of St. Louis is considered significantly overburdened,” he said. “That’s going to help your cause.”

St. Louis is definitely in the low-income category where Michigan cities are concerned with a median annual household income of $43,777, ranking it 1,294th out of 1,520 cities and townships.

Proposed improvements

The proposed improvements would increase the capacity of the wastewater treatment plant so it can handle more effluent volume than it currently does.

Today the plant can treat 1.6 million gallons per day, which is fine most days. But during rainy periods the flow can exceed 7 million gallons per day.

“The wastewater is supposed to linger throughout the tanks for a certain amount of time,” said WWTP operator PJ McGillis. “So, when we get over 1.6 million gallons per day the treatment starts to suffer.”

“There have been times when, in a given year, it was more likely than not that the plant’s capacity would be exceeded at least once,” Giles said. “Our water and wastewater personnel work to keep the pump stations performing optimally so that if an overflow occurs, it is contained within the plant property. These excessive precipitation events do upset the treatment process so that wastewater has not undergone its normal treatment by the time it is discharged.”

McGillis said the daily flow exceeded 1.6 gallons per day at least 30 days so far this year.

The plan presented by Warren proposes:

(A) New sewer lines along Saginaw Street, Main Street and River Court, upgrades to the Union Street pump station and a new main along Union Street and Prospect Street (from the pump station to the treatment plant). 

“Extensive street pavement restoration would be required,” Giles said, and that is baked into the overall cost estimate.

(B) Replace two of the existing three 40-foot treatment plant clarifiers with two new 72-foot diameter clarifiers.

“Most of the year we would only need a single 72 footer, allowing us to drain the other one and do the preventative maintenance and cleaning,” McGillis said.

(C) General improvements to activated sludge system, including addition of rotors in existing oxidation ditches.

(D) Replace chlorination with ultraviolet disinfection.

(E) Add a solids dewatering process in the existing chlorine contact tank.

(F) Maintain the existing vortex grit unit and add a second adjacent unit.

Pine Street sewer

City council’s indefinite postponement of sewer, water and road work on North Pine Street and part of Center Street at the April 4 meeting avoided the need to increase monthly sewer and water fees by $20, but the failing Pine Street sewer still needs attention.

“We will look into interim repairs and construction to address the more pressing issues,” Public Services Director Keith Risdon said in a report. “Part of the ongoing maintenance issue has been undersized, flat sewers and blind tap connections which don’t allow maintenance access. We expect the city will need to utilize a contractor to perform this work due to the depth of the sewers and the extent of the work involving manholes. This work will be required prior to any pavement resurfacing as the manholes and connection points are in the existing pavement.” 

Added Giles: “If we can determine a reasonable solution at a reasonable cost, we will need to hire a contractor to perform this work.”

Salt barn update

Work is expected to begin in May on the city’s new salt storage building. Council approved spending up to $145,000 on the project. Plans have been finalized with the concrete contractor, fencing contractor and building contractor. Estimates from electrical contractors have yet to arrive. The old salt barn had to be torn down after it was damaged by weather in November 2021. The city collected a $66,000 insurance payout and will use that to help pay for the new salt building.

Once construction is complete, the city’s salt will be moved from the drying beds at the wastewater treatment plant, which was the only place to put it after the salt barn became unsafe.

The next salt shipment arrives in August.

Tax database requests

Council approved a 30 cent per parcel fee for anyone requesting tax data on various properties. “Most concerns are with what these people are doing with the information, but we are not allowed to ask or dictate that,” said Finance Director Bobbi Marr in a report to city council. 

“The $0.30 per parcel price is allowed by law and provides some compensation for the municipality for the time and effort,” Giles said. “It is all publicly available information but receiving it in the form of a ‘data dump’ allows it to be obtained without someone having to take all the time to look up parcels individually.”

Police staffing

Newly hired police officer Patrick Herson started his field training April 3.

Meanwhile, Kyle Eisenberger, the Shepherd man the city is putting through the Delta College Police Academy, is on track to graduate May 5 and begin field training with the SLPD on May 8. He should complete his field training in August.

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