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Berne is back on IDEM’s clock

June 26, 2012

Berne Mayor Bill McKean

    The city of Berne is on IDEM's clock once again.
    The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has ordered the city to have in place within 37 months all the equipment necessary to drastically reduce the amount of ammonia in water discharged from its wastewater treatment plant.
    Berne officials aren't happy with IDEM's recent announcement, calling it yet another "unfunded mandate."
    Ben Adams of Commonwealth Engineering spoke to members of Berne City Council on Monday and said the state recently issued a set of "drop dead" timelines for the project.
    "The schedule for compliance doesn't give you a heck of a lot of time," said Adams. "Beginning August 1 you will have three years to reach new ammonia limits as outlined in the new NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) permit. And your current set-up is inadequate to meet that compliance."
    He said IDEM has been monitoring the city's discharge figures for some time "and has determined that your current system has the reasonable potential to exceed water quality standards."
    Adams said there are several options for the city to lower its ammonia effluent discharge, and none of them are inexpensive. He said a 2007 master plan prepared by Commonwealth anticipated the lower ammonia limits. At that time the plan estimated the cost of upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant at between $1.9 and $3 million.
    "But that's old data, and those figures are no longer valid," Adams said.
    Berne uses a lagoon system as its method of treating waste water. Adams said that to build a totally different treatment system would be the most costly approach, and is probably not necessary.    "I think you can continue to use the pond system for some time," he said.
    The city has until until Feb. 1, 2013, to submit to IDEM a preliminary plan that outlines the steps to be taken to reduce ammonia limits in the city's wastewater effluent. "And we want to get Commonwealth going on this," said Mayor Bill McKean. Council voted 5-0 to authorize McKean to execute a contract for the preliminary engineering review.
    While city officials are at this point uncertain how the project will be financed, Adams said a meeting with the city's financial advisor will be needed soon because "you need to figure out what impact this (project) will have on your wastewater rates."
    Councilman Ron Dull said, "Once we know what this is going to cost, I think we should start looking at all utility rates. There is going to be a rate increase. How much, and what the impact will be, we don't know yet."

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