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Marathon panel will vote on sewer plant

Marathon panel will vote on sewer plant Marathon panel will vote on sewer plant

The Marathon Utility Commission is scheduled tonight (Wednesday) to vote on whether to send a $7.7 million wastewater treatment plant plan to a public hearing.

The planned vote will happen after utility commissioners last week Wednesday balked at advancing the plan, years in the making, with village president David Belanger saying that he did not understand the proposal suffi ciently. At the meeting, village administrator Andy Kurtz reported the Department of Natural Resources will still require the village to meet new phosphorus discharge limits, but would grant the village, as requested, a one year extension to build a new sewage treatment plant.

With that one year extension, Kurtz, a voting member of the commission, called on board members to send to public hearing a facility plan, recommended by Strand Associates, Madison, that would replace the existing sewage treatment plant with an Aero-Mod-brand plant.

Following the request, commission member Ted Knoeck moved to do so, Mike Seliger offered a reticent second but the rest of the commission resisted taking a vote.

Belanger said he needed a walk through at the current sewage treatment plant before he would feel comfortable voting to demolish it and build a replacement plant.

“I don’t have the expertise to know the components of a treatment plant,” he admitted. “If I saw a final clarifier, I don’t know what it would look like.”

The village president said he didn’t feel competent enough to ask the right questions about the proposed sewage treatment plant.

“I’d like to get smart,” he said.

Knoeck agreed to withdraw his motion to allow other commission members time to get the information they might need to vote for the new wastewater plant.

“I need to pull my motion,” he said. “I want our members to understand where we are going with this.”

Belanger agreed to take a Friday tour of the sewage treatment plant in order to get a first hand look at the facility.

Commission members, including Belanger, however, were not necessarily sold on buying a new AeroMod plant.

Commision chairman Andy Berens wondered whether the AeroMod plant, a low maintenance, aerobic plant with few pumps, was subject to winter freezing and whether this was why there were so few plants installed in northern climates.

Administrator Kurtz said blowers circulate water in an Aeromod plant as part of standard “winter operation mode” and that this prevented plant water from freezing. He said cold temperatures were not a concern for Aero-Mod plants currently operating in Kendall and Rib Lake.

Wastewater treatment plant operator Ken Blume said Strand Associates had hoped to install the AeroMod plant below ground where temperatures would be more moderate, but they could not because of rock.

Berens said the AeroMod plant would not, by itself, take phosphorus out the village’s treated wastewater headed to the Big Rib River, but that this could be done by adding additional chemicals. Doing so, he said, however, would potentially increase the village’s sludge that will need to be land applied.

Blume agreed that chemicals could take out the needed amount of phosphorus, adding to the village’s sludge, but noted that an AeroMod plant would produce less than half of the sludge than the current sewage treatment plant. The AeroMod’s sludge would be five percent solids versus two percent solids at the current plant. Commission members, too, asked whether the village could get further use out of the current sewage treatment plant if it was able to stay in operation during the year’s extension granted by the DNR.

Blume said the village could continue to use the current sewage treatment plant as long as it met its phosphorus limits through buying phosphorus credits. He said commission members should expect high repair costs on the current plant. “Our operation and maintenance costs will go up,” he said. He added that the village was in jeopardy of seeing the plant overflow during heavy rains, like it has in the past, because of a leaky sewer collection system.

Blume said he understood why commission members might have a hard time voting for the AeroMod plant design.

“It’s a difficult decision,” he said. “It’s a lot of money.”

A Strand Associates facility plan indicates that the $7.7 million AeroMod plant would save the village $30,000 a year in operations costs, but would require a $413,000 annual loan payment. As a result, village sewer rates will need to increase 60 percent, the engineering firm said. It said a typical Marathon residential household using 9,210 gallons of water per quarter would see sewer bills increase from $105 to $168.

Administrator Kurtz said the village would apply for a federal grant through the federal COVID-19 CARES Act to help pay for a portion of the cost of the AeroMod plant.

Kurtz said there was no guarantee the village would receive the grant, but it at least had a shot at getting funded.

In other business, the commission approved a contract with MilTrim Farms, Athens, to buy phosphorus credits. The village will buy credits from the farm, which utilizes no-till planting and cover crops, at the rate of $52 a pound. Broker for the credits is farm consultant Andy Johnson, Rib Falls. He will earn a per pound fee.

Kurtz said he has asked the DNR to decide whether the village could haul its waste sludge to the farm’s manure pit. If the DNR agrees to this plan, the village won’t have to worry about spreading sludge on farmer fields in only the fall or spring, he said.