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Construction begins at Chinook treatment plant


The extensive rebuilding of Chinook's wastewater treatment plant began this week. Officials say the construction will not affect the city's ability to provide sewage service.

The two-phase, $3.3 million project got under way Monday, the first part of which is expected to be completed by mid-November. The project includes replacement of two screw pumps and main sewage lines, the construction of a new pump station building, and the installion of a new clarifier and oxidation ditches for the aging system.

The 17-year-old treatment plant has been plagued in recent years with a number of problems, including freezing pipes, severe corrosion and damage from high winds. A wall of the pump building collapsed in January during a windstorm.

City officials attributed the wall's collapse to the high temperature and humidity inside the plant and the corrosive nature of the material the plant handles.

The screw pumps, which lift sewage from the main lines into the treatment plant, are also in poor condition, plant manager Brian Solberg said. The city of Chinook purchased new screw pumps in 1999, but did not have the money to install them. At the city's request, Bear Paw Development Corp. sought and secured money for the extensive overhaul of the treatment plant.

Funding includes a $2.8 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and loan combination, and a $500,000 Treasure State Endowment Program grant. The city contributed $22,700 from cash reserves.

To offset the cost of the $1.5 million USDA loan, Chinook raised its monthly sewer rates from $15.50 to $30.00. Although the hike sparked some concern, most residents understood that the city needed to revamp its treatment plant, Chinook Mayor Bill Oehmeke said during a May interview.

Chinook's bid for TSEP money was one of 40 projects funded last year by the state Legislature, according to a press release from the Montana Department of Commerce.

The reconstruction project was divided into two phases due to time constraints, according to a press release from Annmarie Robinson, deputy director of Bear Paw Development. The screw pumps and pump station need to be replaced immediately, but the rest of the project could not be completed before the onset of winter, the release said.

Solberg said today that the first phase of construction is the easiest of the two - and the most important.

"This part of the construction is probably the most vital to the plant," he said. "If the screw pumps don't work - nothing else matters."

The initial phase of construction was awarded to Williams Bros. Construction LLC of Billings at a cost of $384,000, according to Robinson's press release.

The contract gives the company 70 days to complete the project, Solberg said.

The city of Chinook will begin accepting bids for the latter phase of construction in January. The phase will include installing a new clarifier, building a new oxidation ditch, and replacing main lines and drying-bed tiles.

The vacuum-assisted drying bed is the part of the plant where water is removed from sludge. Sewage is placed on tiles and exposed to ultraviolet light until it is completely dry, then taken to the landfill. Time and heat have taken a toll on the tiles, and they need to be replaced, Solberg said.

The total cost of phase two is expected to exceed $2.1 million.

Solberg said the construction will not affect sewage service to Chinook residents. The plant can operate with one pump while the other is being replaced, he said.

"It's not supposed to (disrupt service)," he said. "Customers shouldn't even know we're doing it."


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