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WWTP looks to expand
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MONROE - The age and capacity limit of Monroe's wastewater treatment plant is prompting the utility to start thinking about expanding or upgrading.

Requests for proposals from engineering firms to help plan such a project will go out in about a month or two, said George Thompson, superintendent of the utility since June 3.

The city's 27-year-old wastewater facility has reached its capacity limit, and sometimes has exceeded it.

"It doesn't last forever," Thompson said. "And other things have come into play (since 1987). Ammonia limits came in several years ago, and that uses up some of the capacity."

An outside firm will do an engineering study to produce a "facility planning document," the first step toward designing an upgrade.

"The (planning) cost is not going to be as much as you'd expect, if you started from scratch," he said.

Studies done in the past will contribute to the design work. Other studies have been partially completed, and now new phosphate regulations will have to be included in the planning.

"We have to step back and review what has been done and finalize them," Thompson said.

Plans for the upgrade will also take into account additional employees needed to operate the new facility.

"That's all part of the planning. It all works into the economics of it," Thompson said.

Thompson said the utility will seek grants for construction, but how much it can receive will depend upon what's available and what it qualifies for.

Where the expansion or upgrade will be located is still an open question and part of the city's financial considerations.

If the WWTP expanded to the south toward Honey Creek Park, the city parks department would have to move and rebuild its soccer fields.

"That wouldn't add to the WWTP expansion cost, but would impact the city budget overall," Thompson said.

Creek crossings, in this case Honey Creek, brings additional financial and construction concerns.

Land just north of the plant is not owned by the city, and may not be available for purchase.

And building on the other side of town is not out of the question.

"Anywhere you go, there are conflicts to address," Thompson said.

Under the direction of Jerry Ellefson, who was WWTP superintendent for 40 years, the utility has been setting aside funds for eventual upgrades or expansion each year since the facility was built in 1984.

The WWTP equity replacement fund account stands at about $2.3 million, according to Suzy Shaw, city accounts manager.

The funds are set aside so the utility would not have to bond as much for an expansion, she said.

"Jerry was very frugal about that," she added.

The $2.3 million could represent as much as one-tenth of the cost of an expansion or upgrade project, but some of the money may be ear-marked for other projects and not allocated toward expansion.

The WWTP also has about $1.4 million in a sinking debt fund, money required by law to be set aside for current debts. Its operating account is slightly less than $3.6 million.

Monroe's treatment plant capacity requirement is unique because wet industries, associated with producing beer, cheeses and whey, contribute about 70 percent of the plant load, unusually high for most plants.