West Glendive residents voice opposition to wastewater facility plans
By Jason Stuart
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
A number of West Glendive residents voiced opposition and apprehension to the county’s plan to connect the county sewer system to the city’s new wastewater treatment plant at a public hearing Tuesday morning.
Detractors of the plan voiced concern about the cost to residents in increased sewage rates and made arguments that the county’s sewage lagoons could be cleaned and modified to meet sewage discharge permitting requirements.
“Somebody on a fixed income, it’s going to just decimate them,” said Frank Crisafulli of the sewage rate hikes that would accompany the plan. “It’s a matter of economics, what can we afford? I don’t think we’ve got all the answers at this point.”
SRS Crisafulli employee Troy Fercho argued that the lagoons could be brought into compliance and the smell reduced if they were dredged, saying they suffered from “an overabundance of sludge.”
Fercho also questioned why the county commissioners wanted to pursue “what seems to be the most expensive option.”
“I think we should slow this process down and put this off for a few years,” Fercho said.
However, slowing down and putting the process off for a few years may not be a viable option for the county.
The county is currently operating without a permit for the West Glendive sewage lagoons. Instead, the county is operating under an “Administrative Order on Consent” with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
The binding legal order requires the county to make steady, reported progress on its efforts to address its sewage treatment violations. Failure to do so could result in the DEQ levying fines totaling tens of thousands of dollars a day against the county.
Craig Pozega, an engineer with Great West Engineering and the lead engineer for the city’s wastewater treatment plant, laid out to the crowd the current lagoon system’s shortcomings and the options engineers considered to bring the county back in compliance with DEQ and Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
Great West performed the preliminary engineering review of the West Glendive sewage system in 2012.
Pozega said the sewage discharge regulations have tightened up “quite a bit” since the county was issued its last regular DEQ permit in 2009. Even then, Pozega noted that DEQ officials “knew the existing system could not meet the requirements of that permit.”
“The system isn’t meeting the permitting limits that have been in place since the process first started, and you’ve got new permitting limits the system can’t meet,” Pozega said. “There’s requirements in the permit you can’t meet, and you have a timeline to meet those requirements.”
Among the West Glendive sewage system’s issues, according to Pozega, is that it is exceeding its discharge limits, averaging a daily discharge of 300,000 gallons per day when it was permitted to discharge 275,000 gpd.
He also noted that the lagoons are incapable of treating wastewater for e. coli bacteria or ammonia and also struggle with treating for nitrogen and phosphorous.
According to DEQ’s administrative order, from May 2009 to May 2012, the sewage lagoons exceeded effluent pollution limits on 55 occasions. Thirty-six of those occurrences exceeded the allowable pollutant levels by 40 percent or more for Group I pollutants or 20 percent or more for Group II pollutants.
Pozega outlined other options Great West engineers considered to bring the county back into permitting compliance.
Two of those options included expansion of the lagoon system or “using all the tricks available” to attempt to upgrade the existing lagoon system.
Expanding the lagoon system would require significant expansion of the physical footprint, as it would require two new lagoons, one a 30 million gallon storage lagoon.
As for retrofitting the existing lagoons, Pozega said that doing so may still not bring them in line with the ever more stringent permitting regulations and that choosing that option had a “limited potential for growth” to keep up with population expansion.
According to Pozega, connecting to the city plant is the county’s most cost-effective option.
“When we did the PER in 2012, the connection to the city was the lowest cost alternative,” Pozega said.
The estimated cost of building the infrastructure to carry West Glendive’s waste to the new city plant is $2.9 million. The plan would require a new lift station and a pipe to carry sewage across the river.
The county has also agreed to pay 30.7 percent of the city’s cost for the new plant, which would cover West Glendive’s projected use of the facility. The county will also be responsible for 30.7 percent of the operations and maintenance costs to run the new plant.
According to the most recent construction figures for the project, the county’s portion could total close to $6 million, according to County Clerk Shirley Kreiman said.
The county originally estimated that connecting to the Glendive plant would cost West Glendive sewage customers an estimated $54.70 per month on their sewage bills for a period of 20 years to pay off the county’s portion of the project cost.
That estimate was based on the plant’s original $12.5 million estimated cost, however, and the low bid to build it came in at $16.3 million.
Pozega said any route the county goes would cost West Glendive sewage customers more than the originally calculated estimates.
“The connection fee to the city is going to have increased, but the costs for all the other alternatives are going to have increased as well,” he said.
At least one meeting attendee, Pat Mischel, voiced his support for the plan, saying it represented an investment in the community and its future.
“When you develop a sewer system, your land and your buildings are going to be worth a lot more,” Mischel said. “You’ve got to put a little bit into your towns. You’ll get it back.”
Reach Jason Stuart at firstname.lastname@example.org.