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Curtiss looks at big sewer upgrade

Curtiss looks at big sewer upgrade Curtiss looks at big sewer upgrade

Two-phase project could cost as much as $17 million

Curtiss is looking at having to build a new sewage treatment plant that will cost upwards of $17 million, but first, the village needs to figure out how it’s going to pay for the massive two-phase project.

Earlier this year, the village determined that its existing wastewater treatment lagoons are too close to the groundwater underneath, risking contamination of the water table.

As a result, the DNR has ordered the village to construct a new facility that will prevent groundwater contamination and also reduce ammonia and phosphorus levels in the effluent that is released into the surrounding watershed.

MSA Professional Services had already been working on a facility plan to address the phosphorus and ammonia issues, but due to the groundwater concerns, the planning process has changed.

The village is also waiting to hear whether Abbyland Foods plans on expanding its operations or continuing at its current production level. At its Sept. 1 meeting, the village board approved a $44,500 change order for MSA to provide sewage treatment alternatives and cost estimates for either of those scenarios.

Paul Hess at Abbyland confirmed that the company is considering an expansion of its Curtiss facilities and plans to make a decision by the end of the year.

MSA has also been hired by the village to design a new treatment facility, along with possible new wells and transmission lines. MSA was one of four firms to submit proposals for the project.

MSA engineer Mike Voss said the first phase of the new treatment facility will need to be completed by Oct. 1, 2022, in order for the village to comply with its wastewater discharge permit.

The first phase, which is estimated to cost between $12.2 and $13.5 million, will involve construction of what’s called a “moveable bed biofilm bioreactor” (MBBR), which will reduce ammonia and phosphorus levels while also possibly incorporating two of the village’s current treatment lagoons.

The village’s current treatment system consists of five lagoons, including two aerated ones and three stabilization ponds. The three stabilization ponds will need to be abandoned, Voss said, but the two aerated lagoons could be re-purposed for the new treatment facility.

Both of the existing ponds will still have to be raised at the bottom to avoid groundwater contamination, Voss said.

The new MBB system will also include a new control building and a number of concrete tanks with balls of plastic film inside to break down the village’s waste.

The second phase of the project, estimated to cost about $3.5 million, would be the installation of a tertiary filter to remove excess phosphorus and get the village down to the DNR’s ultra-low limit of .075 milligrams per liter.

Voss said this phase may not be necessary if the village finds it more costeffective to do what’s called “nutrient trading” — working with a farmer somewhere else in the Black River watershed to reduce the amount of phosphorus being discharged into local waterways.

In this scenario, the village would pay the farmer to remove phosphorus on a per-pound basis to make up for what the plant is still discharging above the limit.

“The only problem with that is, it’s not a one-to-one ratio,” Voss told the board. “For every pound you’ve got to get rid of, you’ve actually got to get rid of anywhere between two and half to three pounds.”

DPW Larry Swarr said the village currently discharges about 40 million gallons of effluent per year, so if it could get its phosphorus level down to .2 mg/L, it would need to deal with around 70 pounds per year of phosphorus.

Based on the DNR’s ratio, Voss said this means the village may have to pay to get rid of over 200 pounds per year. Swarr said he spoke to a company that says it can do that for an average of cost of $150 to $250 per pound, which would total $30,000 to $50,000 annually.

Right now, the village is using what’s called a “multi-discharger variance” (MDV) to avoid meeting the ultra-low phosphorus limit. The MDV requires Curtiss to pay the Clark County Land Conservation Department a $50 per pound fee for its excess phosphorus.

How to pay for it all?

Voss spoke to the board at its monthly meeting on Nov. 5 about options for financing a project that could cost as much as $17 million when all is said and done.

The village had initially looked at possibly getting up to 80 percent funding from the federal CARES Act, which provided states with aid in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Voss said Wisconsin no longer has money available under this program, and even if it did, the village’s project would only qualify for a 20 percent match because of the price tag.

Voss recommends the village pursue grant money from the Wisconsin Economic Development Administration, $1 million in Community Development Block Grant money and $1.5 million from the DNR’s Clean Water Fund.

All together, Voss said the village could expect to receive between $5.4 and $5.6 million for the new sewer plant.

One big factor in the village’s financing plan is how much Abbyland Foods will be willing or able to contribute to the project.

As the largest user of the village’s sewer services by far, the company is expected to either provide collateral for financing or at least reimbursement through its quarterly sewer charges.

“Abbyland’s going to have to fork up the lion’s share of this,” Voss said.

Based on his initial conversations with Abbyland officials, village president Randy Busse said they are wondering if a $16 to $17 million project is the only option.

Voss said it’s not the only option, but he believes it’s “the most economical” one. He noted that the current cost estimates include a 25 percent contingency, and the final costs are likely to come in significantly lower than $17 million.

“I’m hoping we can remove some of the cost during design,” he said.

Trustee John Unruh asked about possibly digging a ditch around the existing lagoons to remove the groundwater. Voss said the village’s previous engineers at Davy Engineering tried that, but it didn’t work.

“If you dig a ditch, you’ve got to have somewhere to drain it,” he said. “You can’t dig it any deeper.”

That would require construction of a “ridiculously expensive” containment wall, Voss said, and the village would still have to dig more treatment ponds. He said that’s not really a viable option due to wetland issues and because neighboring landowners have said they are not interesting in selling their land.

Voss said the village would have to resort to adverse possession or other legal avenues to obtain land from those private parties.

“You don’t want to go there,” he told the board. “You don’t want to take people’s land. It’s expensive, it’s nasty business, it’s not fun.”

How will sewer rates change?

Because there are still unanswered questions about Abbyland’s possible expansion plans and other factors, it’s unclear at this point how the sewer plant upgrade will impact user rates.

“The facility plan that we’re finishing up now will look at the sewer rates and calculate what the expected sewer rates would be,” Voss told the board last week.

Once Abbyland announces whether or not it plans on expanding its facilities, Voss said the facility plan can be finalized.

The village board just recently approved new sewer rates in July, with the quarterly fixed fee dropping from $41

to $27, and the usage charge increasing from $2 to $3.60 per 1,000 gallons of water used.

Under this new rate structure, smaller volume users pay less while higher-volume users pay more. Overall, residential and commercial rates increased by 10 percent.

The village’s largest sewer user, the Abbyland pork plant, saw its rates increase, but there will be fewer extra surcharges assessed the facility.

Trustee Betty Rettig said village residents are worried about the local water supply once Abbyland builds two new apartment buildings for its workers and reopens El Norteno restaurant.

Busse said the amount of water used by the new apartments will not be a problem for the village, according to what the DNR has said.

“With the amount of water we have now, and the water they are going to use, there’s no issue,” he said.

More water will be needed if Abbyland expands its production facilities, but Busse said a new wastewater treatment plan is needed either way.

“I’m more worried about this sewer project, and when this is said and done, how much our sewer rates are going to go up,” he said.