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Harrisburg moving forward to replace 1930s-era sewage treatment plant

  • Engineer Matt Tosh shows Harrisburg City Council members Natalie Miller, left, and Mike Weirauch where a proposed new sewage treatment plant would be located at council's first 2019 meeting. The city voted to move forward to construct a new plant at the meeting.

    Engineer Matt Tosh shows Harrisburg City Council members Natalie Miller, left, and Mike Weirauch where a proposed new sewage treatment plant would be located at council's first 2019 meeting. The city voted to move forward to construct a new plant at the meeting.
    TRAVIS DENEAL PHOTO

 
By Travis DeNeal tdeneal@dailyregister.com
updated: 1/9/2019 12:50 PM

HARRISBURG -- The Harrisburg City Council has voted to begin the process of replacing its outdated sewage treatment plant, a process the council learned may take several years.

Most Harrisburg residents, those who work in town or anyone who has stopped in town on a hot summer's day likely can attest to being aware of the current sewage plant's overpowering odor. It's been an issue in the city for years, Mayor John McPeek said.

"If you were a business owner looking at relocating here, it could be a deal-breaker," McPeek said in an interview shortly after taking office in 2016. "It's awful."

In 2017, the city received a letter from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency that stated, after an inspection of the site, it was near the end of its useful life.

After he took office, McPeek said that was one of several priority projects. McPeek, Commissioner Richard Harper, Water and Sewer Superintendent Kelly Hefner, treatment plant manager Bobby Brown and others involved with the city have visited other cities' newer sewage treatment plants to see how updated technology has made many such facilities almost odor-free. On Thursday night, during a presentation on the project by city engineer Jim Brown, who was joined by engineer Matt Tosh, McPeek mentioned how when the group visited Murphysboro's plant, there was virtually no odor.

Brown has addressed the sewage treatment plant frequently at city council meetings. He revisited it again at the council's first meeting of 2019. He said the plant was built in the 1930s with the last substantial update in 1969. It also had some updates in 1987.

"It's basically been about 50 years since there's been any significant update," Brown told the council.

He said when it was built, sewage treatment plants at the time in this area largely used gravity only as a means of transporting waste to the plant. Therefore, it was built in one of the lowest elevations in the city. Since that time, though, that end of the city has built up around it, causing any excess water to flow toward the plant. Its low elevation already made flooding a risk. In 2008, flooding in Harrisburg became a dire situation for the plant.

"We almost lost it in 2008," Brown said.

Brown presented the council with a plan for a new sewage treatment plant to be located on city property on the north end of town near the city's sewage lagoons. This location is at a higher elevation than the current treatment plant.

Brown also suggested submitting a pre-application for loan assistance, along with a proposed new sewage treatment plant plan, to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The estimated cost of the entire project is $18,481,500 according to a report on the project Brown prepared. The city also is applying for any available IEPA grants through IEPA's revolving grant fund. Any grant money will offset the total amount of a loan, Brown said.

In the report, the timetable estimates that the project could be completed 1,100 days from planning approval, if the project is approved this June.

"It's a project that takes a certain amount of time," Brown said.

McPeek said he is proud of council members for taking on this project, but that it is overdue.

"This is something that should have been started 10 years ago," he said. "But, it will be a good thing once it's done."