The city of Mason is planning a $17 million renovation and expansion of its wastewater treatment plant and Department of Public Works building.
"The project itself is an expansion of the capacity of the plant, primarily," Mason Mayor Russell Whipple said. "But it will also involve a basic update of the equipment. The vast majority of the major equipment is 40 to 60 years old. So, it's outlived its useful life."
Whipple said right now the plant can handle between 1.5 million to 3 million gallons of wastewater per day. After its expansion, it will be able to handle between 3 million and 6 million gallons and should empty less untreated wastewater directly into Sycamore Creek, something that now happens once or twice a year.
"When we have a big rain event, we get a lot more water that runs to our wastewater treatment plant," Whipple said, "and that causes us to deal with a situation where the plant can't handle that volume of sewage, so we have to actually bypass the plant and pump it directly into the creek. The other issue is that when the creek gets high, it backs up the pipe that actually dumps the treated water into the creek when it's all done and treated. It actually backs up to the point where we have to shut it off because it would back right up into the plant."
Because of the plant's problems handling heavy rains, the city is under a consent order from the state Department of Environmental Quality and Whipple says they've been told dumping wastewater directly into the creek has to stop.
"They've come in and told us that we can't do that anymore, that we need to take actions to figure out a way to reduce our inflows or expand the capacity of the plant..." Whipple said. "The main reason we're doing this is to enable us to treat sewage properly and then the side effect of that is that it will allow us to get out of the consent order with the DEQ, which, really just drives some additional reporting requirements from us and also kind of holds over us possible impacts to our license to treat wastewater."
The project will be done in two phases, starting with the relocation of the Mason Department of Public Works facility - which is now adjacent to the wastewater treatment plant - to the water treatment plant on Temple Street.
"The new plant will require some of the space there, both for construction, but also remediation in the fact that our entire system is in the flood plain," he said. "So, we need to free up some empty ground there, and then the following year if everything goes well with the DPW project, we would start the work on getting the designs finalized and going out for bids for the wastewater plant, and I'm guessing that within two to three years after this year, that that will all be up and running. It could happen a little sooner depending on how things pan out."
The project "may very well lead to a sizable increase in water and sewage usage rates," Whipple said. "If nothing else comes into the fray as far as revenue, the estimates had been on the order of around a 40-percent increase."
Whipple said they are working on getting "as many grants as they can get their hands on" to help offset the cost.
"If we have to go forward with a very large use-fee increase, the cost of water and sewer in Mason will still be in the middle of the range of places around us. A lot of people are very concerned about that. I know there are legitimate concerns, 'Why didn't you do this sooner?' 'Why didn't you do this before it became a huge problem?'" he said. "We actually had planned on expanding the wastewater treatment plant back in the late '90s, and our biggest industrial user at the time shut down and dramatically reduced our water and sewer use to the point where we were way under our limit."
He said the new wastewater treatment plant should last at least 20 years.
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