Salem commission prepares for major utility projects

SALEM –The city Utilities Commission committed itself and its checkbook to several projects Thursday totaling in excess of an estimated $11.7 million which will come partly from reserve funds and partly from a loan.

“We’ve got issues that at some point we’ve got to address,” Commission Chairman Robert Hodgson said.

Much of the work has been talked about for years, with a Phase 2 project to continue upgrading the wastewater treatment plant showing the largest price tag at an estimated $7.4 million to construct a sludge dewatering building to reduce solids and a storage pad to store the sludge, build a new administration building at the wastewater treatment plant and install two new primary clarifiers or settling tanks for solids to replace clarifiers first installed in 1928.

Failing, aging equipment and continued requirements from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, along with the idea of the cost continuing to rise, led the commission to agree to go forward on the improvements utilities administrative personnel recommended as a priority.

“If you gotta do it, how much longer do you wait,” Hodgson said, adding that this is what the reserve funds had been set aside to do.

Commission member Randy Malmsberry asked how much of a cushion should be left in the reserve funds for wastewater in case of an unforeseen catastrophe. Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart said a $2 million cushion is adequate.

The Burgess & Niple engineering firm had done a five-year study plan of maintenance issues and upgrades still needed for the wastewater treatment plant. Due to the massive cost of $19.9 million for everything on the list, the commission asked Weingart and Assistant Utilities Superintendent Matt Hoopes to talk with personnel and prioritize what needs done now.

Bob Schreiner, an engineer with B & N, told the commission last month that the existing primary clarifiers were in pretty bad shape. The tanks are shallow and don’t meet the current standards and there’s a higher overflow rate. The cost of repairing them would be almost as much as putting in new tanks. The wastewater treatment plant currently has five existing primary clarifiers. Plans would call for the installation of two new clarifiers that are round near the current location. One of the tank buildings could be kept for sludge thickening and the cost could be less than building the new tanks on another part of the property.

Regarding the sludge handling, commission member Tim Weingart asked how much they could save with a sludge facility and Don Weingart estimated at least $100,000 per year.

Now that they’ve agreed to go forward, Hodgson said B&N will work on the design and final cost estimates.

For water main replacements planned this year, the commission agreed to borrow from itself, approving the initiation of a loan agreement for the water side of the department to borrow roughly $1.3 million from the wastewater side at the going rate for loans, with plans to pay back the loan over five years. By borrowing in-house, Hodgson said the department can get the waterline replacement projects done quicker so the city can get those streets paved this year.

The cost for the waterlines on Carole Drive, Fairview Court and Home Circle have been estimated at $443,000 by the engineering firm Benesch. The cost for the waterline on North Ellsworth Avenue, which is being engineered by Howells & Baird, is estimated at $800,000. The commissioners agreed they had already committed to the waterline replacements, so it was just a matter of going forward with the funding.

Mayor John Berlin thanked the commission, noting the residents of those streets will be pleased. Not only are they getting new waterlines, but they’ll have their streets paved this year, too, through the city. He acknowledged it will be rough for a while this summer due to all the construction, but said the outcome will be great.

The remaining $3 million the commission took action to secure involves a 10-year loan at an interest rate of 2.89 percent to move forward with the Snyder Road sanitary sewer main extension. With an easement granted by American Standard and officially recorded, they could go forward, with all agreeing they had already committed to it, so it was just a matter of figuring out the funding.

Plans call for eliminating two lift stations, which will create a cost-savings, plus the new line will open up about 30 acres to economic development. The line will go from South Lincoln along Snyder Road, then down Depot and across the American Standard property to Newgarden.

“We really appreciate the commitment from American Standard,” Hodgson said, offering thanks to Paul Lee of American Standard for his help in getting the easement approved and to city Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst for his assistance. He stressed that American Standard’s action will be a benefit to the community.

The next meeting of the Utilities Commission is 4 p.m. March 16.

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