Monday, January 06, 2014
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Lincoln contracts with CMT for long-term sewage control plan

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[January 06, 2014]  At the last city council meeting of the old year, on Dec. 16, Lincoln aldermen voted to enter into a contract with Crawford, Murphy & Tilly of Springfield for the development of a long-term control plan for the city sewage. The plan addresses the continued separation of the city's stormwater and sewer line, and is estimated to cost approximately $550,000 by the time it is completed.

Collecting data and creating an engineering plan will be approximately 40 percent of the total cost involved to address stormwater overflow. The city has been advised to expect an investment of approximately $1.2 million for the project when all is said and done.

At the Dec. 10 council meeting, city administrator Sue McLaughlin broke down where the anticipated costs of the full project would go. The various components of the project include $550,000 to CMT for engineering plans, $200,000 to $300,000 for GIS mapping, $75,000 for flow and rain monitoring equipment, and $150,000 for environmental studies and field verification. McLaughlin also plugged in $125,000 for other expenses related to the project. She ended by saying these were all "plus or minus" figures that could change as the project progressed.

The city of Lincoln currently has what is referred to as a combined sewer system. This means that raw sewage and stormwater runoff travel to the waste treatment plant on the city's south edge in one underground pipe. This is a situation that is unacceptable according to both state and federal Environmental Protection Agency standards.

The city of Lincoln is one of only 700 communities in the United States that still has a combined sewer system.

The city has for the last few years been addressing and correcting this issue as it has redone city streets. Most recently, the one block of Pulaski Street that was completed in late November included running separated sewer lines. As that project continues into this spring and summer, the entire length of that road reconstruction will include similar work.

Tim Ferguson, who is the waste treatment plant manager for the city, discussed the project at the Dec. 10 meeting. He said the first step in creating a plan would be to devise a model of the current sewer lines.

The stormwater management model would include taking into account sewer pipeline sizes, elevations and the areas that drain into the lines. The model then calibrates the information into a specific plan that identifies where water is coming from during storm events.

Ferguson said this is the nuts and bolts of the project. He said that once the city can calibrate where water is coming from, then the engineering firms can start looking at developing plans on how to mitigate stormwater flowing into the sewer system and can identify where sewer separation may be necessary or if there needs to be an additional treatment facility.

He said Prairie Engineers has already completed the first section of the GIS mapping of the wards. He said there would need to be field verification of the pipe sizes.

Ferguson explained that flow monitoring equipment needs to be installed inside the sewer system. The equipment would monitor the flow of water running through the system during a storm event.

Environmental studies would determine the flow into Salt Creek and Brainard's Branch and what effects stormwater has on those waterways.

Ferguson said there would also be requirements for public meetings regarding the studies and plan, and there would be operation and maintenance plan updates that reflect the findings of the plan.

On hand at the meeting on Dec. 10 was Christy Crites of CMT, who also discussed the plan with the council. She noted that CMT is very well experienced with doing this type of work and confident they can give the city a good final product.

She said the long-term control plan was requested by the federal EPA and administered by the state EPA. The push started with larger communities and has now "trickled down" to the smaller cities. She said the project is all about controlling pollution in the natural waterways. Currently, the plan is not mandated by the EPA but is "strongly recommended." Eventually it will more than likely be a mandate.

She said the overall goal is to get the city to four or fewer overflows within a one-year time frame.

She said CMT would create the model using actual data collected from the city system. It would then be able to simulate how stormwater events would affect the sewage system. She said running the simulation with an accurate model would help to identify small problems inside the system that can be fixed to improve performance of the wastewater system.

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She told the council that the model is a key component of the study. The four or less overflows per year will always be the requirement. The city could invest a few million dollars into upgrading the system, but if it does not hold the overflows to four or less, it would be all to do over.

She said creating the model first, conducting the simulations and studying the outcome would help the city do it right the first time.

Crites was asked about the flow monitoring equipment that would be used to collect data. She said CMT will work with Ferguson but is also looking at hiring a third-party firm to manage the equipment. She said the flow monitoring equipment would be checked regularly to make sure it is working properly. She also noted that equipment today has alarm systems and signals incorporated into it to notify personnel when there is a problem.

Bruce Carmitchel asked what the most common unpleasant surprise might be when going through this process. The CMT representative said the biggest challenge was getting good data, and that was also the key to establishing the best model.

McLaughlin said that was one of the struggles the city has been experiencing over the last few years.

The city first started talking about this stormwater situation in 2008. At that time David Kitzmiller was the overseer of the waste treatment plant. He came to the council and presented information about EPA-required monitoring of combined sewer overflow. The CSO monitoring was a requirement wherein the city had to collect samples of overflow from six storm events in a year. However, there were guidelines that included 10-day waiting periods between the events.

In the last five years, the weather has not cooperated. In some years rains came too frequently, and in the last couple of years there hasn't been enough rain to create six overflows.

Crites said the city is at the mercy of Mother Nature. But, she said, if there is a plan in place, it is easier to go to the EPA and get extensions on the monitoring. She said it would be key to communicate with the EPA, and she noted that being close to Springfield, officials in the EPA are going to know personally what the weather conditions have been and how this has affected the city's efforts to do the CSOs.

Once the official plan is completed, it will be submitted to the EPA for approval. CMT anticipates having the plan completed by May of 2015. Once the EPA reviews and approves the plan, that will set a new clock into motion. The EPA will determine how much time it should take the city to achieve all the goals set in the plan, and the city will have to comply with their timelines.

During the multiple discussions regarding the long-term control plan and its eventual implementation, it was mentioned that the EPA can assist the city financially by first determining the scope of work that will have to be done, the financial condition of the city and its ability to pay for the project, and then set deadlines accordingly. In addition, there may be loans that can be taken through the EPA to assist in paying for the project.

The last major project the city of Lincoln did was an overhaul of the waste treatment plant. That project was financed through an EPA loan, on which they are still making annual payments.

When the city voted to adopt a utility tax, one of the points made in the plan was that the tax could assist in paying for long-term sewer improvements.

There is also the option of creating a stormwater utility tax. When this was first discussed, none of the aldermen were in favor of imposing another tax on the city's residents and businesses.

Finally, the cost of the long-term plan and the subsequent work on the city sewer systems could be paid by an increase in the sewer fees.

When all this was discussed, McLaughlin said that the best plan would be to wait and see what is going to be needed, figure out how much it is going to cost, then address how to cover the costs.

There is currently $150,000 in the city budget for sewer work. That amount can help cover costs between now and the end of the fiscal year on April 30.

During the coming fiscal year budget process, the city will need to include the balance of the $550,000 and the method to pay at least for the first portion.


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