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Dorchester hires new engineer for phosphorus plans

Kevin O’Brien

Dorchester’s elected officials, when presented with a price difference of nearly $19,000, chose the cheaper of two options last Wednesday for phosphorus reduction planning at the village’s wastewater treatment plant.

The village board voted to accept a $5,000 proposal from Cooper Engineering after hearing a presentation from engineer Dan Gustafson. A competing offer was presented by engineer Mike Voss of MSA Professional Services, but board members shied away from the $23,600 price tag on MSA’s proposal.

Trustee Keith Lageman questioned why there was such a big price difference between the two proposals, but both engineers had left the meeting by the time the board started its discussion. The two engineers spoke to the board at different points in the meeting, and were not present to hear each other make a pitch.

“It’s just seems like we’re missing something, to have that big of a discrepancy in the numbers,” Lageman said.

Trustee Daniella Schauer agreed.

“That’s too big of a savings,” she said.

Trustee Clarence “Klemm” Klimpke, however, was reluctant to pass up on signifi cant savings for the village.

“I don’t want to spend extra money for the same thing,” he said.

“But we don’t know if it’s going to be the same thing,” Lageman responded.

MSA’s proposal includes a $23,600 lump sum for the work, while Cooper will charge the village an estimated $5,000 based on hourly rates.

Utility operator Rick Golz, however, said both engineering firms are equally capable of keeping the village on schedule to meet DNR deadlines for phosphorus compliance.

“I think either one will get you to where you want to go,” he told the board.

Golz and the village have been working with MSA for several years now on wastewater issues, but Golz noted that two of the MSA engineers he was used to working with are now gone (one passed away, and the other left the company).

“They got us to this point,” he said.

Ultimately, the board decided that Cooper’s proposal would be enough to satisfy the DNR’s phosphorus mandates, and at a much lower cost than MSA.

MSA’s proposal seems to have been a more comprehensive one, with Voss discussing plans to deal with ammonia, suspended solids and BODs — not just phosphorus — in the wastewater effluent.

According to MSA’s written proposal, the firm would do everything from recommending treatment upgrades and writing a facility plan to identifying funding outside funding sources and estimating sewer rate impacts.

For the last three years, MSA has been handling all of village’s phosphorus compliance issues, culminating with a “final compliance alternatives plan” submitted to the DNR in July of 2019. In 2015, when the village’s discharge permit was last up for renewal, the board heard competing proposals from three engineering firms, including MSA, SEH and Morgan & Parmley. The board ended up awarding SEH a $1,300 contract to prepare and submit an evaluation of the village’s sewer treatment operations.

At that time, the village’s sewer ponds were discharging up to seven pounds of phosphorus per day into a tributary of the Popple River. In order to meet a new limit of .060 pounds per day, the village had to figure out a way to decrease its daily discharge by a factor of 80.

At the end of 2016, the village started adding chemical treatments to the wastewater pond in order to remove as much phosphorus as possible before the effluent is released into the environment.

In 2017, the village board agreed to pay MSA a total of $34,000 over three years for submitting annual reports and plans to the DNR for reducing phosphorus.

MSA representatives also reached out to local businesses to see if they were using high volumes of phosphorus in their cleaning or production processes.

In order to comply with its discharge permit, Dorchester was required to come up with a preliminary phosphorus plan by May 1, 2018, and a final plan by May 1, 2019. MSA completed these plans as part of the $34,000 contract. The village also did a six-week chemical treatment trial, at a cost of just over $5,000, in 2018.

During his presentation to the board, Gustafson said Cooper’s wastewater engineer Gary Strand plans on reviewing the village’s current sewer treatment operations and coming up with a costeffective option for meeting future DNR phosphorus limits.

“He wants to get a look at your plant, see how it’s operated,” he said. “He’s been good at looking at various plants and making minor adjustments without spending a lot of money.”

Gustafson said Strand has done similar work in Edgar and in Owen, where only minor repairs were needed to keep the plant working properly.

Cooper’s proposal includes submitting a required facility plan to the DNR by the Sept. 30 deadline, but any future plans and specifications would be included in a separate agreement.

Golz said the village is adding chemicals to reduce phosphorus levels, but the village must still pay a fine of $56 per pound of phosphorus for everything over 1 mg/L discharged by the ponds. If the village did nothing with chemical treatments, those fines would have totalled $76,000 last year. Although the chemicals cost money, he said adding them brings the fines down to $15,000.

Voss, during his presentation, said MSA can help the village save money by getting the DNR to raise the sewer plant’s ammonia limits for the month of June, which are not always easy to meet.

“It’s worth a shot, because if they do raise them, boy, you guys will save a lot of money in operation and upgrading,” he said.

Golz confirmed that it’s difficult to meet the limits for ammonia, suspended solids and BODs (dissolved oxygen) in June, which drop drastically just for that month. Golz said he’s not sure why that is part of the village’s discharge permit.

Voss said MSA submitted a request to raise those limits a couple months ago, but they still have not heard back. If that request were to be approved, he said the village could focus solely on phosphorus.

MSA’s plan is to build on the work it has already for the village over the past few years and get it to the point where it can submit a proposal for treatment upgrades to the DNR, Voss said.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s what needs to be done for the next step,” he said.

Voss noted that $23,600 is actually a 40 percent discount from MSA’s normal price, so he thinks his firm is providing “the best value for your buck.”