GENESEE — In order to meet state and federal requirements and avoid potential fines, Genesee residents will be asked to vote on a bond in November to help pay for upgrades to the city’s wastewater facility.
The facility was built in the 1930s and upgraded in the 1950s to replace public septic tanks with the current earthen-lined lagoon south of town.
In 2017, the city received a wastewater discharge permit that includes requirements the existing facility does not meet, said Ryan Rehder, Lewiston regional manager for Mountain Waterworks.
Rehder addressed the Genesee City Council, mayor and eight residents Tuesday at the Genesee Senior Center during a meeting designed to collect public comment.
The wastewater facility is deficient in several areas: Lagoon seepage is above the acceptable state limit; the facility needs two additional lagoons to adhere to state law; the facility does not meet the new Environmental Protection Agency ammonia limit; and the collection system has leaks.
From 2014-17, Rehder said the city committed 1,326 violations of the Clean Water Act as a result of the deficient wastewater system. He said the seepage limit is based on a monthly average, so if a city does not meet that month’s limit, a violation is counted for each day of that month.
The EPA fined the city twice in the past five years. The agency handed down the most recent fine in 2018 for $30,000 — negotiated down from $216,000 — which the city paid.
Rehder said upgrades are necessary to avoid future violations and more fines.
He proposed five project alternatives for the city council to select. The council is expected to pick an option at its next meeting July 2.
Of the five alternatives, the one that relocates the wastewater treatment facility and includes a three-cell lagoon system on a new site to be determined is the one Rehder recommended. That plan also called for a new centralized pump station with flow measurement, a new headworks facility to prevent solids from entering the new lagoons, modern lagoon liners to prevent seepage beyond limits, new tertiary treatment to remove ammonia, new disinfection facilities, a new land application site and taking the existing lagoon out of service.
The estimated $6.14 million project is the cheapest of the five options but would meet current and possible future seepage limits. The estimate does not include the cost to purchase or lease the roughly 30 acres of land needed. The most expensive option of the five is about $12.11 million.
Rehder recommended the city replace pipes to fix leaks in the 39,678-foot wastewater collection system. He said Mountain Waterworks staff ranked segments of pipes and manhole replacements on the severity of the leaks.
The replacements would cost as much as $2.48 million, depending on how much the city council chooses to fix.
“I suggest you do as much collection system replacement and repair as you can based on what you can afford,” Rehder said.
If the bond is passed with a simple majority, Genesee residents’ sewer rates will likely increase. Rehder said the goal is to keep rates in the neighborhood of $55 per month.
The bond cost, term and election have not been finalized, but Rehder said the city should target a bond amount of $5 million to $6 million. Mayor Steve Odenborg said the term could be 20 to 30 years and the election is scheduled for Nov. 5.
Rehder said after the meeting that, with bond approval, he expects the chosen project to be designed next year, construction to start in 2021 and for the project to be completed in 2022.
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