An extensive evaluation of the 38-year-old Phillips wastewater treatment plant has revealed a high price tag of needed repairs and upgrades, estimated at $4.66 million in total costs.
The evaluation was presented to the city council Oct. 3 by city engineer Mike Stoffel of Ayres Associates and Greg Droessler of Town and Country Engineering.
The treatment plant, which was last upgraded in 2001, is structurally sound overall although the technology used to operate the plant is considerably outdated.
The 18-year-old computers used to monitor the treatment plant are all in need of an upgrade, which will be an expensive process, according to Droessler — although it will allow for more effective management of the plant in the future.
Additionally, the pumps used to take the wastewater through the plant and the controls used to control the rate at which it moves need to be upgraded.
A secondary containment tank is needed, although the city will have the choice between a permanent concrete tank or a more short-lived plastic tank. Fixed covers are needed for the top of the containment tanks, which currently run the risk of freezing as well as presenting safety concerns for workers at the plant. These covers will also help with the maintenance of the tanks, according to Droessler. A backup generator is needed for part of the treatment plant.
Repairs are needed to the plant’s anaerobic digester, which is used to break down waste materials. The cover for the digester was damaged in 2016, and a temporary repair was cobbled together at that time.
Droessler said that the methane created by the digestion process is currently being vented into the atmosphere, which is both dangerous (as it is highly flammable) as well as being a possible environmental concern.
The options for repairing this could either be replacing the cover of the tank or possibly transitioning to an aerobic process which would produce carbon dioxide instead of methane and result in a safer facility, according to Droessler. It could also have lower operating costs, although further research would need to be done into operating such a process in a northern climate.
A cover is also needed for a sludge storage tank to prevent it from freezing.
Beyond that, there are some minor repairs needed to the structure and components of the plant, as well as lighting, ventilation, and equipment upgrades.
The costs for the needs identified at the treatment plant are categorized in low, medium, and high priority. The low priority costs are estimated at $2,278,000, medium priority at $82,000, and high priority at $2,325,000.
The city could choose to tackle the issues over a period of several years, with the high priority needs being met in the next five years. One funding mechanism to help offset the costs would be applying for a loan through the Department of Natural Resources’ Clean Water Fund.
If the city were to choose to pursue this funding with the aim of starting project work in 2021, they would need to file an intent to apply form with the DNR by the end of October. Filing this would not commit the city to anything, according to Droessler.
A facility plan is required by the DNR, which would take approximately six months to complete, according to Droessler. The facility plan would be valid for 20 years, and even if the city chooses not to pursue construction in 2021, the plan will still be valuable for another two decades.
The city council voted unanimously to complete the intent to file paperwork for the Clean Water Fund loan program.
Update on Germania property leak
A water leak under the house located at 241 Germania Avenue — originally reported back in July to be leaking 1,440 gallons a day — has still not been permanently resolved by the homeowner, according to wastewater superintendent Todd Toelle.
The leak has been temporarily controlled by turning off the city’s water supply at the street, although the homeowner has been allowed to turn the water on as needed.
The homeowner was sent a letter by the city attorney, demanding a plumber be hired to resolve the issue by Aug. 13 or have the water turned off permanently.
At the city council’s meetings in September, it was reported that the property owner had found a plumber, although the repair would be delayed by the plumber’s schedule.
On Oct. 1, it was reported to the city council that the plumber had not yet been given access to the house by the homeowner.
Although it was acknowledged that the homeowner had been given numerous 30-day extensions, Marshall recommended giving the homeowner another 30 days to resolve the leak or have a licensed plumber provide good reason why the repair can’t be completed within 30 days.
If the repair is not completed and the water is shut off permanently, the house will be determined uninhabitable and the property owner will likely be required to vacate the property.
The council voted unanimously to give the homeowner another 30 days, beginning Oct. 1.
Property owners with contaminated well object to proposed city water hook-up
A contaminated well located on private property within the city limits has been an ongoing issue for several years, appearing on the council’s agenda for discussion numerous times.
At the city’s Oct. 8 Common Council meeting, property owner Anne Collins and her son Kerry Collins appeared before the council for the first time, speaking for approximately 30 minutes during public comment.
Anne Collins provided personal background into the contaminated well, which has been impacted since 1992. The well is contaminated with petroleum, which Collins indicated was caused by a leak at a nearby gas station that was in business at the time.
In situations where a well becomes inoperable or contaminated, the city requires the property owners to hook up to the municipal water main or lateral if available. Collins argued that since the nearest water main is an entire street over on South Argyle — requiring a long line to run by easement through another property before connecting to the Collins’ house — municipal water is not available to them.
The well water coming into the house is currently being filtered through a new activated carbon filtration system, according to Collins.
As this was a public comment item, no action was taken by the council.
Mayor Charles Peterson commented that the council had to consider all the residents within the city and the possibility of cross-contamination. He recommended the Collins discuss the issue further with representatives of the DNR and the city’s attorney.
Budget amendments approved
The council approved a series of adjustments to the 2019 budget. These included $3,000 additional revenue earned from campground fees, put toward campground expenses; $594.31 in insurance received following a power surge at the police department, put toward police expenses; $45,500 received as the proceeds from long-term debt, which was put toward a police squad vehicle; $41,103.43 received as the proceeds from long-term debt, put toward a Public Works street project and new mower; and a donation in the amount of $1,129.60 for new basketball hoops.
New expenditures also included a new Public Works vehicle costing $28,651.28; the new city docks costing $5,768; and new rubber mulch for Elk Lake Park costing $2,074.80.
City adopts resolutions regarding nonpartisan redistricting, constitutional amendment
A pair of resolutions were presented to the city council by a group of citizens, including Mary Hahn, Eric Larsen, Jeannie Larson, and Harvey Bilz, who want to see local government give their stamp of approval to the proposed resolutions.
The first resolution indicates support for creating a nonpartisan legislative and congressional redistricting process.
“... We want people to elect their representatives, not representatives picking their people,” said Hahn. “The way it is now, whichever party is in power … gets to choose their maps and they cut and split those maps to their benefit. What we would like to see is a completely nonpartisan way of identifying how those maps are developed.”
The second resolution indicates support for a constitutional amendment that would allow constitutional rights to be extended only to human beings and not corporations or any other artificial entities. Additionally, the resolution calls to limit political contributions.
“This is getting big money out of politics — that dark money that floods all campaigns, both Republican and Democratic and Independent, where corporations have unlimited funds to taint the process of fair elections,” said Hahn.
City attorney Bruce Marshall informed the council that he had looked into the legality of both resolutions and had found no reason the council could not approve them — although any approval would simply serve as a statement and not have any immediate effect.
The council unanimously voted to adopt the two resolutions at the Oct. 8 meeting.
The two resolutions will now be forwarded to the county government for consideration.
According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, 48 counties in Wisconsin have passed similar resolutions supporting nonpartisan redistricting maps.
* The council unanimously approved upgrading the city office’s computers and installing new antivirus software at the estimated cost of $2,700.
* The council unanimously approved joint powers with the county.
* The council voted unanimously to accept their insurance company’s recommendation to disallow a claim from an individual who had tripped and fallen on a city sidewalk.
* The council voted to adopt a preliminary resolution declaring their intent to levy special assessments for the costs associated with relaying the downtown sidewalks.