SIOUX CITY — A city utility manager told Sioux City Council on Saturday that staff are working as quickly as possible to ensure repairs and upgrades are made to the beleaguered sewage treatment plant.
A request for $23.7 million for plant modifications is part of the five-year capital improvement budget that the board began considering during the one-day session.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is suing the city for repeated violations at the plant, which could amount to millions of dollars in penalties. City officials believe upcoming projects and a new management structure will improve plant operations and eliminate many of the problems that have caused frequent violations of state wastewater treatment permits.
“We can’t speed things up more than we are,” said Tom Pingel, who was hired this spring as the city’s utility manager in charge of the sewage treatment plant. “We need to give the engineers some time to come up with the plans to do a lot of these replacements. Then they have to submit them to the DNR. The DNR reviews them to make sure they meet the water design standards from the Iowa DNR. My staff and I can’t just replace a valve or a pump without knowing exactly if it meets the outstanding requirements, if it meets the design standards.”
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In fiscal year 2023 alone, city staff are seeking $4.8 million for plant modifications, including $2.5 million for the design and construction of improved controls, $980,000 for the design of four primary clarifiers, $450,000 for blower upgrades and $250,000 for secondary valve upgrades. The city will use loans from the state’s revolving fund to cover the costs. Maintenance-related items, however, are not eligible for SRF funding, so must be paid for from sewer funds.
“It’s very important that these items are handled appropriately,” Pingel said. “In the next few weeks, you’ll see a (request for quote) come out asking for consultants to be part of this project, on the repair side, but also primary clarifiers.”
Mayor Bob Scott remarked that “a lot of stuff was done 8 to 10 years ago” at the plant at a cost of $110 million, so “some of that stuff can’t already be worn out.”
Pingel replied that the improvements were “mostly structural type things”.
“If you spend 110 (millions of dollars) you could have a brand new sewer south of town for less money and a much better process. This advice was sold a bundle by the director of utilities at the time and it’s unfortunate,” Scott said. “We should never have spent so much money and not had a new factory.”
Many violations involving the factory stem from a three-year plan beginning in 2012 in which two former factory supervisors manipulated water sample test results to conceal falsified chlorine levels in order to ensure that discharges from the plant into the Missouri River met environmental requirements. The scheme was reported to the DNR in April 2015 and resulted in the dismissal and prosecution of the plant superintendent and a shift supervisor.
City staff are also seeking $5.5 million in fiscal year 2023 for design, engineering, construction and inspection services for a new UV disinfection system at the plant. which will eliminate the need for chemicals, such as chlorine. Instead, ultraviolet light will be used to treat wastewater before it is released into the Missouri River. Funding from the American Rescue Plan Act will pay for the project.
“We’re on the cutting edge of a lot of things that we do and try to implement different things to be good stewards of not just taxpayers’ money but also the environment,” Councilman Alex Watters said. . “Whether it’s UV, fertilizer, solar and renewable fuels, all of those things are things we should be just as proud of as the updates at the Tyson Events Center or something like that.”
During the hearing, council members got a first look at projects in the capital improvement program, or CIP, budget that begins July 1.
The $99.7 million proposal represents an increase of more than $19.6 million over the current budget year’s capital budget. Additionally, the $99.7 million is for the first year of the proposed five-year ICP, which would spend more than $407 million in fiscal years through 2026-27.
In addition to the $23.7 million in wastewater treatment plant modifications, over the five years combined, CIP would spend $70.3 million on annual airport capital projects, $45 million on annual infrastructure reconstruction and $15.8 million for annual resurfacing.
The proposed PIC provides for a use of 66.1% of the City’s debt capacity at the start of the year. The proposed debt issuance for FY2023 reduces the percentage of borrowing capacity utilized to 65.7%.
“A lot of it is looking at streets, bridges and utilities – a huge infrastructure year for us. Bigger than most years, in part because we got these US bailout funds,” said the city’s chief financial officer, Teresa Fitch. “It’s a huge addition to our CIP this year.”