Although City of Hope officials aren't characterizing it that way, the options which the City is facing in rehabilitating a substantial portion of its wastewater collection and treatment system is much like the arcade game where players use a rubber mallet to whack moles that pop up on a game board.
Although City of Hope officials aren't characterizing it that way, the options which the City is facing in rehabilitating a substantial portion of its wastewater collection and treatment system is much like the arcade game where players use a rubber mallet to whack moles that pop up on a game board. The mole, in this instance, is rainwater that infiltrates wastewater collection lines that, in some cases, are as much as 50 years old; oftentimes, pushing massive amounts of water through a system that was not designed to handle it at one time. Replacing those lines, along with defective or damaged manholes, is the major expense in the entire project, an estimated $4.2 million in a projected $7.1 million program that includes the collection and treatment system. “In terms of money, probably no more than $8 million for the project, and there would be some refinancing to go with that,” City Manager Catherine Cook said in a recent interview. “The goal would be to keep the project in the under $10 million range altogether, including the refinancing; because, the under $10 million range allows the bond issue to be 'bank qualified,' which means that banks who are large purchasers of municipal bonds would be qualified to bid it.” About $2 million in refinancing of current bonded debt is expected to be involved, Cook said. “We are still structured in the financing to make the payout at the same time as the original bond issues,” she said. That means the City will tackle the financing of a three-part rehabilitation/replacement program extending through 2015 while reducing the debt service costs on its existing bonds substantially. “The 1997 bonds are scheduled to payout in 2019; we'd refinance those, but they would still pay out in 2019,” Cook said. “Right now, we're paying about four percent; but, if we refinance, we'd pay about two percent. Sometimes, you refinance and extend out, but that is not our intention with our old bond issues.” The cost savings in debt refinancing will be helpful in paying for the new project, she said. “For the majority of the issue, almost $3 million of the remaining $7-8 million would be focused on our wastewater treatment facilities,” Cook said. “Our plants were constructed in 1979; they are in very good shape, and we did about a million dollars in work on them in 1997 and 1998.” The treatment process units themselves at both the Bois D'Arc and Pine Creek wastewater treatment plants are in good shape, she said. The new costs will be associated mainly with filtration and sludge drying processes that need to be updated. “In terms of our permitting through the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, we have no problems meeting our wastewater permitting test limits,” Cook said. “We test our water regularly; our problem is that we are getting inflow into our lines.” Adding updated filtering and sludge treatment capabilities at both plants will help control the demands that the excess inflow problems are creating, she said. Cook said that seepage from groundwater, rain runoff and other sources occurs in defective or cracked pipes, pipe joints, connections or manhole walls. That extra volume pushes the filtration systems at both plants to their limits, at times. Wastewater Treatment Supervisor Kim Holston estimates that a rainfall of less than one-half inch over a one hour period adds some 18,333 gallons to the volume of wastewater treatment due to infiltration. Cook said that, particularly during rainy winter months, the sand-based filtration and drying system is never allowed to completely dry out as it is supposed to do so because of the constant infiltration problem. Replacing that system in the first year of the three-year construction period will provide some advantage to controlling the inflow problem as the remainder of the project is completed, she said. “It's just gotten slower and slower in there through the winter months,” Cook said. “It's not a matter of labor, although it is somewhat labor intensive, it's just that it doesn't dry out, so we have operational concerns over the winter.” And, the upgrade will also help the City manage the volume of things which shouldn't be in the system in the first place, she said. “Believe it or not, people have flushed towels into the sanitary sewer; and, children, sometimes, flush things that are not supposed to be in the sanitary sewer system,” Cook said. “For some reason, we have a lot of things like potato chip bags.” Whack-a-mole.