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City takes on sewer woes

August 18, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - City sewer officials on Tuesday proposed nearly $1 million more in spending on the city's aging sewer system to tackle some of the problems that have led to polluted water pouring into Antietam Creek.

Twice this month and several times over the past two years, the city Waste Water Treatment Plant on Frederick Street has released wastewater that contained higher levels of bacteria than it would normally release.

Officials blamed this month's releases on electric problems, but previous releases were blamed on system overloads due to heavy rainfall.

In both cases, the spilled wastewater has been treated to remove solid waste and nutrients, but not bacteria.

Spending measures discussed at Tuesday's City Council work session - including adding workers and speeding up system repairs - would address the overloads blamed on rainfall.

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The City Council was receptive to the new spending, which would be above proposed levels adopted for current fiscal year.

Officials also addressed the electric problems, which continue to plague the city's sewer system.

"We need to get more people in here," George Fischer, a Water and Sewer Department division manager, told the City Council Tuesday.

Three new positions would be created under the proposals - a field operator, an equipment operator and a supervisory position to coordinate new projects.

The new positions would cost about $133,000 a year. Water and Sewer Department Manager David Shindle said he would begin advertising the positions soon, although it would take time to fill them.

The officials also requested new meters to monitor sewage flows, including those from county-owned pipes that connect to the city's system; more testing for leaks; and speeding repairs to sewer lines and manholes, where rainwater can enter and overload the plant.

Officials proposed another $550,000 in spending to address new federal regulations. Officials said this would not affect the city's budget until the next fiscal cycle.

The city planned to spend about $736,000 on repairs to the sewer system this year. However, the new proposals for the current fiscal year and for the following fiscal year total about $980,000.

City Finance Director Alfred Martin said the proposals will not affect this year's sewer rates because of a $260,000 cash reserve in the water and sewer department's budget. Remaining costs can be covered by a separate water and sewer department fund, he said.

City Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire asked if the state would still be able to stop the city from issuing new sewer connections because of ongoing capacity problems.

"I don't want to be sitting here as an elected body and have that hammer come down on us," Aleshire said.

Shindle said the city will be beyond its state-calculated allowed sewer capacity next year, although he and others are discussing a new formula to calculate sewer capacity. Shindle said he expects to hear from the state on that matter in September.

City officials said a number of actions have been taken to address the sewer plant's electric problems.

Two electric generators have been installed at the city's sewer department, Shindle said. As of Tuesday, some parts of the plant were still on generated power after a massive electric failure on Thursday led to the 12-hour power outage.

The cost of renting those generators for the next few months while other upgrades take place will be about $115,000, Shindle said.

A portable pump which would increase the ability to handle added wastewater from heavy rainfall was installed over the weekend, Shindle said. The cost for that item will be presented to council in the future, he said.

City Light Department Manager Mike Spiker said the electric switch gear - the cause of the two spills this month - was expected to be fixed today.

Spiker said the work was a "temporary patch" until a $100,000 to $200,000 project to replace the 24-year-old equipment is completed later this year.

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