Some feel sewer plant plan stinks

Jason Ferguson

Some residents who live near the proposed City of Custer wastewater treatment plant expansion say the plan stinks—but not because of any odor coming from the plant. Rather, the complaint is the proposed expansion’s location.
Part of the expansion plan calls for construction of a Submerged Attached Growth Reactor (SAGR) system, which must be adjacent to the existing facility. Because of that, the system will be constructed on city-owned land just west of the existing facility, which puts it roughly 200 yards away from some of the residents on the east end of Boot Hill Ranch Estates.
Dave and Carol Schafer are among those who live closest to where the expansion will take place, and during an update of the project at the May 3 meeting of the Custer City Council, the Schafers worried aloud about the sound that could emanate from plant.
“This is going to be less than 200 feet from our house. Our house sits on rock. I know rock carries sound,” Dave Schafer said. “I don’t understand why they have to put it so doggone close to our house. I think it’s ridiculous. Anybody here...would you want it in your back yard within 200 feet of your house? To put it this close to homes is ridiculous. It’s beyond ridiculous. It’s asinine.”
Trent Bruce, vice president of DGR Engineering, one of the firms helping facilitate the project, said every precaution is being taken to mitigate noise from the system and the sound will be less than what is currently produced by the system, although he couldn’t speak specifically to how rock affects the sound. The SAGR system has blowers that push air into the system, but they are in soundproof enclosures in a building that will absorb even more sound.
“It’s a very quiet system,” he said.
Carol Schafer asked if the system could be constructed parallel to Spring Place instead of perpendicular to it, or even diagonally, but Bruce said the way the plant is designed it fits snuggly onto the land and can’t be turned at all.
“We are tight north and south of the property,” he said, adding the slope had to be steepened to fit the system.
Another area resident, Ben Rothenburg, said he feels the city has not been as transparent as it should have been through the process, and theorized that the proximity of the wastewater treatment plan expansion would lessen the value of adjacent property. He said people who bought property in the area to build on “don’t know what’s coming” and will be “shellshocked” when they build their house and the value drops, particularly those on Siri Lane.
Bruce said he cannot determine if the system expansion will be detrimental to property values, but  every effort will be made to mitigate sound and sight of the expansion. The SAGR system itself is unobtrusive, as it will be below a hill and under the ground with mulch on top. It is also a completely chemical-free system.
“You can walk or drive on top of the system,” he said.
Some trees are being taken out for grading work for the system, but they will be replanted to help further obstruct the view of the plant for area residents. Erosion control materials will be used as well.
One person at the meeting via teleconference wondered why the uproar was taking place, saying those who bought property knew the wastewater treatment plant was nearby. That was countered with those questioning the expansion location by conceding that yes, they knew the plant was there, but did not know about the possible expansion bringing it even closer.
Carol Schafer said it was easy for people not as close to it as the Schafers are to question their complaints.
“It’s not in your back yard,” she said.
Bruce again went over the timeline for the project, which will start this summer with fixing the force main that takes effluent to Rocky Knolls Golf Course. This phase of the project was bumped to the front of the queue because of repeated leaks in the force main. The city received $1.5 million in loan money for the project and will repay that loan via a $5.40 surcharge on city residents’ sewer bills.  The city is contributing around $1 million of wastewater fund reserves as well.
Construction for the first phase consists of sliplining the existing resin force main with eight-inch PVC pipe inside the 12-inch resin pipe. It will be connected along the way, allowing the force main to be repaired without copious amounts of digging. It will be repaired from the wastewater treatment plan to the chemical feed building on the east end of Canal Street.
The next phase, Phase 1B, will go to bid in June and will include HVAC improvements, replacing doors and the existing plant generator. Part of the building that no longer meets building codes will be partitioned off. Construction should begin on this phase in the fall and run into next year.
Design is already underway for Phase II of the project, which will be bid in April of next year for construction summer 2022. This will include constructing the SAGR system, disc filter and UV disinfection system. Finally, phase III, which consists of a new discharge force main from the treatment plant to French Creek, will be constructed in 2023, likely into 2024. The force main being replaced runs down Sidney Park Road to Flynn Creek. This line will be abandoned in place, but could be used in the future if necessary.
Moving ahead with the plant expansion is necessary because the current plant has outlived its “design life.” The expected design life of a typical wastewater treatment plant (before rehab/replacement is needed) is around 20 years (although they will last longer), and although the city’s plant continues to chug along, it is close to the end of its design life, as it is 32 years old. The expansion is also needed for more stringent Department of Agriculture and National Resources regulations in regard to effluent discharge.
The current ponds at the plant will remain in place, as they will provide extra space for wastewater to collect in the event of a situation that sends more water to the plant, while allowing for equalized treatment. The ponds also allow for the expansion to be designed smaller, because it does not have to be designed to have peak flows going through it at all times.
All told, the project will cost an estimated $14 million. The city will apply for funding for each phase of the project. Bruce said he is confident the city will receive grant money for upcoming phases.
In other news from the May 3 meeting, the council:
• Awarded the bid for Phase I of the project to Mountain View Builders out of Sheridan, Wyo., in the amount of $882,819. Mountain View was the lowest of three bidders for the project and actually bid under the engineer’s estimate for the project.
• Approved the $5.40 surcharge to help repay the loan for Phase I. The surcharge, which is required by the state to receive the funding, will be effective on customers’ July billing.
• Approved a new wage scale with raises for both entry-level and current city employees with the city. The increase is an attempt to keep the city competitive and attract employees, particularly to the public works department. The council also approved a fitness benefit for employees that will see the city pay $25 toward an employee’s membership to Custer YMCA.
Alderwoman Jeannie Fischer said the city’s general government committee saw it as a way the city could encourage wellness, benefit employees and partner with the YMCA.

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