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Stimulus cuts $13M project to $11M for Lewisburg

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The $13 million doubling of Lewisburg's sewage treatment plant capacity with its concurrent construction of a 10-million-gallon holding tank will take 18 months and it's sure to be approved by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

"This project is 99 percent certain to be approved by the state," according to J. Roy Wauford Jr., president of J.R. Wauford & Co., the Nashville-based consulting engineering firm retained by the Lewisburg Water and Wastewater Department for design and oversight of the project.

Wauford attended a state-required meeting in Lewisburg City Hall on Thursday evening, a session that's required for the funding of the multi-million project. Construction will cost utility customers nearly 15.4 percent less because of federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of Congress as administered by TDEC. A 20-year, $2 million forgivable loan is available from TDEC through the State Revolving Loan Fund. It reduces the $13 million cost to $11 million.

Water and sewer rate hikes were needed to prove to the state that the utility would be able to repay the borrowed money.

"The minimum increase of $3.99 (on water and sewer bills) is about the cost of a Coke, a bag of chips and a candy bar per month," Water and Wastewater Superintendent Kenneth Carr said.

The public meeting was a requirement to borrow money, currently calculated at about 2.2 percent, and the meeting brought no surprises, nor were there any members of the general public attending. However, it did provide insights on what's to be built starting in a few months.

Carr introduced Greg Davenport, project engineer from J.R. Wauford & Co., who in Carr's words told "about the plant we're fixin' to build and the money we're fixin' to borrow."

Davenport spoke without notes for at least half an hour. Observers of the situation know broken sewers permit stormwater to seep into the sewage collection system, thereby diluting the wastewater and increasing its volume. It's a problem faced by wastewater systems across America.

When the problem isn't resolved, the increased volume that can't be treated immediately starts to collect in the pipes. When that volume is exceeded, wastewater either starts to overflow at manholes or is passed through the treatment plant with partial treatment, or both. In accordance with the Clean Water Act of 1972 and its amendments, TDEC has ordered Lewisburg to increase the capacity of its treatment plant and build a 10-million-gallon holding tank near the plant that's in the vicinity of the Elks Club Lodge, a credit union and a Mexican restaurant.

The plant's expansion is from a treatment rate of three million gallons a day (3 MGD) to six million gallons per day (6 MGD). When the system is put into operation and flow reaches 6 MGD the excess is to be diverted into the holding tank to await treatment after rain subsides and flows return to normal.

When flow drops to less than 6 MGD, Davenport explained during the videotaped meeting, treatment automatically starts on what's been held in the tank.

Sludge from the treatment process is pasteurized and can be put on any garden as fertilizer, the project engineer said.

The sludge handling process included in the plant expansion "is considered a green project" that is environmentally friendly, and therefore eligible for federal support, Davenport said, and so TDEC is providing $2 million in federal stimulus money in the form of a loan for which $2 million in principle repayment is not required. Interest payments, at the low rate available from the state revolving loan program, are to be made by the utility.

Compared to income-tax-free municipal bonds that currently cost about 4 percent, the going rate from the state fund will save the city more than $5.75 million in interest payments during the 20-year repayment period, Davenport said.

Officials hope to call for and then open bids for two construction projects in the spring. Davenport said "hopefully," because neither Lewisburg nor Wauford can control the timetable of the funding agency.

This is an 18-month project, Davenport said. The two contracts for the job are for the holding tank and the plant capacity expansion.

Faced with their role as wastewater division employees of the city utility, two department leaders who work directly with the plant's operation were asked how they view the project and their responsibilities during 2011 and thereafter.

"It's a mixed blessing," Rosco Brannon said.

Kenneth Sweeton concurred.

"You dread the construction," the plant manager said, "but you'll appreciate the results."

Also attending the meeting with Wauford, Davenport, Carr, Sweeton and Brannon were utility board members Hershel Davis, Gary Bolling and Billy Hill, Asistant Department Superintendent Robert "Pepper" Biggers, department employee Tony Bradford, former utility Superintendent Larry Jones, and former City Manager Eddie Fuller who video tape recorded the meeting so it could be viewed at the city's Internet Web site. The program, available on demand, is about one hour long.