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Officials lay out options for looming infrastructure needs

Freeman Courier of Freeman, South Dakota

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Upgrade of wastewater treatment plant, expansion of city landfill and rebuild of Main Street could top $4 million

Freeman city officials and engineering professionals presented to members of the public last week initial plans for dealing with several municipal infrastructure issues, the total cost of which could climb past $4 million.

The meeting, held at the Freeman Community Center meeting room Thursday evening, Feb. 20, covered three major projects the city is considering: improving the condition of the municipal wastewater treatment facility, extending the lifespan of the city restricted use landfill and rubble site and refurbishing several blocks of Main Street.

About a dozen members of the public attended the meeting, which was held for informational purposes and was not considered an official meeting of the Freeman City Council.

The first portion of the meeting dealt with the issues at the wastewater treatment facility west of town, where a number of upgrades are necessary_ to ensure it continues to service the city efficiently and within state regulations and standards.

Built in 1979, the complex consists of a main lift station building and five sewage treatment ponds, all of which need considerable upgrading, said Mike Kuno, a project manager with Short Elliott Hendrick-son Inc., an engineering consultation firm out of Sioux Falls providing consultation to the city.

The lift station building itself would need numerous pieces of equipment upgraded, including a transfer pump, motor control centers and the backup generator and auto transfer switch. The ponds themselves would require new air piping, diffusers and the testing and removal of sludge from the ponds where buildup is occurring.

"It's not treating the wastewater as it was designed to do," Kuno said. "It creates a sludge that settles at the bottom of the ponds."

Kuno said the consequences of not addressing conditions at the treatment facility ranged from incurring fines from the state to a breakdown of the city sewer system, where the city could be forced into limiting water usage.

While members of the audience agreed the project was of vital importance to the city, how exactly the costs of it would be covered were less clear.

Kuno estimates the cost of the wastewater treatment facility at about $1,536,000. The city is currently planning to seek either a grant from the state Consolidated Water Facili-ties Construction Program or a loan from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program. Officials with the city expect the terms for a loan to be for 20 years at 3 percent. The Board of Water and Natural Resources could also forgive all or a portion of the principle.

Depending on what grants the city can obtain to help offset the cost of the loan, the impact of the project on consumers could vary greatly. Current plans call for a surcharge to be added to customer's water bills. Without any grants from the state, that surcharge would add $10.40 to every water bill per month. That charge drops to $9.35, $7.80 and $5.20 per month should the state award grants for 10 percent, 25 percent or 50 percent of the cost of the project.

Some in attendance weren't sure a surcharge was the most equitable way to defray costs of the project.

"That would double a lot of people's bill," Lonnie Tjaden said, adding it didn't seem right that a large business that uses the system more would pay the same as a private resident who uses it less.

Ted Hofer, also in attendance at the meeting, agreed.

"We have some low income families (in town). Those with a higher volume of use should bear more (of the cost)," Hofer said.

John Clem said the surcharge was the recommended method for repaying the loan because the monthly income from the surcharge was more fixed than the income that would come with a rate increase, which can fluctuate by how much residents use the system. Other communities have also used a special property tax assessment to help fund such projects.

Sorensen said that, like most of the plans presented Thursday night, the surcharge plan was preliminary.

"We don't know where the answer is yet," he said. "We're looking at (a surcharge) because they recommended it."

Discussion on the project continued, with audience members posing several questions to Sorensen, Clem and Kuno, including suggestions about saving money on big-ticket items like the 200 kW generator that carries a price tag of $108,000 by itself. But members of the audience agreed that the wastewater treatment facility project should be a priority. The service is too valuable to risk it not functioning correctly.

"This has to be done," Tjaden said.

Sorensen stressed that there was more discussion to come on the project. A public hearing for the wastewater treatment work will be held at Freeman City Hall Monday, March 3 at 7 p.m. at the next regular meeting of the Freeman City Council.

Other projects

The audience also heard initial plans for work at the city restricted use site and on Main Street between North County Road and Fifth Street.

Projections provided by the city indicate the city landfill has only a few years remaining before there won't be any more room for refuse. Estimates indicate the landfill will be out of room by 2017 without the acquisition of more land.

Cost for the project is estimated at $375,000, and the city is expecting to take out a 7-year loan and to seek out more grants to pay for what needs to be done. Depending on the grant amount, users of the rubble site could see between a $2.95 and $5.95 rate increase.

Members of the audience suggested taking a look at actual usage of the rubble site to determine if it is utilized enough to justify continuing operation. Other suggestions included a survey that would be sent to customers with their bill, asking for their opinion on the matter.

"The citizens will have to decide if they want a landfill or not," Tjaden said.

Sorensen agreed, but noted that if the city closed the site, it would likely never reopen.

"If we close it, it's done," Sorensen said.

The meeting also covered some aspects of another major project - the rebuilding of portions of Main Street as well as portions of the storm sewer beneath the street. In some place, Sorensen said, workers can't even get inspection cameras through the pipes to assess their condition.

Curb, gutter and new sidewalks would also be included in the upgrades.

The two-phase project would come in at a cost of about $2,264,750, and city officials would have to decide whether it makes more sense to apply for a 30-year loan at 3.25 percent or a 20-year loan at 3 percent. Additional grants to offset the cost would mean a rate increase between $8 and $16, depending on the amount of the grants received.

Members of the audience agreed the project was worthy, just not as high a priority as the other two proposed projects.

"Main Street is something that has to be done. Someday," Tjaden said. "I can drive over bumps, but when my toilet doesn't flush there are going to be phone calls."

Copyright 2014 Freeman Courier, Freeman, South Dakota. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: February 26, 2014

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