By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Chinook wastewater treatment plant will receive a desperately needed upgrade late this summer, city officials said.
Grant and loan dollars have been secured for the project, which will cost $3.3 million, Chinook Mayor Bill Oehmcke said Wednesday. The project will be done in two phases, and should be completed early next year, he said.
The 17-year-old waste treatment plant has been plagued with a number of problems in recent years, including a severely deteriorating building, aging screw pumps, a cracked drying bed and pipes that are susceptible to freezing, said Annmarie Robinson, deputy director of the Bear Paw Development Corp.
Chinook plans to replace the building, collection lines, and drying bed, as well as install new screw pumps, Robinson said.
The screw pumps, which move waste from the sewer main into the plant for processing, need to be replaced immediately, Oehmcke said. Raw sewage is extremely corrosive, especially after 17 years of use, he added.
Chinook purchased two new screw pumps in 1999, but was unable to install them, Robinson said. Replacing the pumps while meeting state and federal regulations was financially prohibitive, she added.
"If you touch anything during this process, you have to replace everything," she said. The result was that the city had to wait for enough funding to upgrade the entire facility.
Another problem with the plant was the construction of the screw pump building. Made from metal, the building has deteriorated due to high humidity in inside the building and the corrosive material the pumps handle, Robinson said.
The extent of the building's deterioration became obvious when a wall collapsed during a wind storm in January, Oehmcke said.
"The skeletal structure of the building corroded away and couldn't hold up to the wind," said Brian Solberg, who manages the treatment plant.
The plant has also had trouble with the vacuum assisted drying bed, which removes all water from solid waste. Fecal matter is placed on tiles and exposed to ultraviolet light until it is completely dry, then taken taken to the landfill. The tile has become cracked and needs replacing, Robinson said.
The first part of the upgrade will begin in several months, Oehmcke said. The screw pump building will be rebuilt, and the new pumps will be installed, more than four years after their purchase. Both the pumps and the building will be coated with an anticorrosive substance, he said.
"You have technology available today that wasn't around twenty years, ago," he said. "Hopefully it will add to the life expectancy of the plant."
The second part of the project includes replacing piping and drying tiles. Oehmcke said he hopes to have everything completed by March.
Both Robinson and Oehmcke said the the treatment plant upgrade is expensive but necessary.
"Who knows how long it would have been before it broke down," Oehmcke said. "We're trying to be proactive and stay on top of it."
The city will begin taking bids for the project in June, Oehmcke said.
Finding funding for the project was a difficult prospect, he added.
"There were a lot of different steps involved in this process," he said. "There were a lot of angles to be covered."
Bear Paw Development was responsible for identifying grants and writing applications. Ultimately, Chinook was approved for a $500,000 Treasure State Endowment Program grant and a $2.8 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and loan combination. The City of Chinook contributed another $22,700 to meet the project's projected cost.
The TSEP grant, which uses interest from the Coal Tax Trust Fund, was approved during the last legislative session. Oehmcke said he was encouraged by the award.
"The life expectancy of a waste treatment plant is about 20 years," he said. "There are a lot of moving parts and corrosive material. I think the Legislature realizes that."
"Right now it's operating as it's supposed to, but due to the years and the wear on the plant, it's just time for improvements," Solberg said today.
The plant will not have to be shut down during the upgrades, he added.
"We have the ability to operate on one screw pump," he said. "So hopefully we can replace one at a time."
Montana communities applied for 55 TSEP grants last session, Robinson said. The projects were ranked by importance and need, and the top 40 were funded, according to the Montana Department of Commerce. The Chinook wastewater treatment plant was ranked high on the list, Robinson said.
"It was a very strong project," she said, adding that Oehmcke testified in Helena before the Legislature about the project.
To offset the cost of the USDA loan, Chinook raised its monthly sewer rates from $15.50 to $30.00, Robinson said.
The price hike sparked concern from some residents, Oehmcke said. Public meetings saw some complaints about the raise, and also questions about the cost of the project, he added.
"The rates have only been raised twice in thirty years," he said. "We're kind of playing catch up from that aspect . I feel (the residents) were understanding of the situation for the most part."