The City of Jacksonville is working to keep water and sewer rates from increasing due to the long-term complete renovation project of the wastewater treatment plant.
Last week the Jacksonville City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would allow the city to incur loans from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to help defray costs during the course of the project.
Jamie Headen with Benton & Associates in Jacksonville says if the city council approves the ordinance to borrow up to $40 million from the IEPA, it doesn’t mean the city will have to borrow all or any of that money.
“The debt authorizing ordinance is required by the Illinois EPA in order for the city to receive SRF low-interest loans, and they would probably receive those over the years of the project in different phases, and that will help maximize potential grant opportunities. So this is required in order to receive those loans, it doesn’t necessarily lock the city into those funds, it just makes those funds available. If they are the most opportune funds for them to use then that’s probably the way they will proceed.”
Headen says the phase one design for upgrades to the headworks is complete. The headworks is the first stop in the wastewater treatment process that separates solids from liquids.
Headen says the remediation project is planned in phases over a ten-year period to help spread out the costs and minimize the chance of any interruption to wastewater treatment service.
“They have been doing replacement over the last five to ten years of some of a lot of the large items. But I think the benefit of being able to attack these in phases not only allows them to build the project while still operating the wastewater treatment plant. Because that’s one of the tough things of this project, you still have to operate the treatment plant every day through all of these projects.
But the amount of potential grant funds and favorable funding that they can get over these phases offsets a little bit of the material and small items that have to be replaced along the way.”
Mayor Andy Ezard told the council last week ahead of the reading that it was a big vote because not only is it a lot of money, but like the water treatment plant, the wastewater plant is also a key facility for the city that must stay operational 24 hours a day.
Ezard says the plan for the wastewater treatment plant differs from the water treatment plant project because the city can take its time to spread the project out. He says that doesn’t mean that there is not still a sense of urgency after it also was nearly wiped out a little over a decade ago.
“After the flood of 2011 we were tasked to, hey you’ve got to do something Jacksonville, and we did it. The sewer plant is a little different however it was really really close, like I said at the meeting, a lot of people don’t realize that we almost lost our sewer plant in that flood too.
We did the remediation of building up the ground and the levee as far as preventing a flood for the future. So we’ve taken that step, but now it’s an aging plant and it’s something you don’t really think about until you really need it, and everybody needs it.”
The current wastewater treatment plant was constructed in 1971 with the last major update coming in 1988. Currently the plant is not able to process the amount of sludge to meet IEPA standards and the US EPA has set new phosphorus limits the plant will have to comply with starting in 2025.
Headen says If everything goes to plan at the city and state levels, construction could start as early as the fourth quarter of this year.