Berne officials travel to view a system

    A contingent of municipal officials from Berne traveled to Lamar, Missouri, last weekend to view firsthand a wastewater treatment system that has risen to the top of the city's list of options for mandatory improvements to the local treatment facility.
    Berne is under orders from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to reduce the amount of ammonia contained in waste water that is being discharged to area rivers and streams by the year 2015.
    A preliminary engineering report outlining how the city will tackle its ammonia reduction must be submitted to IDEM by Feb. 1.
    During Monday evening's meeting of the Berne City Council, Mayor Bill McKean said a group that included himself, city workforce manager Kurt Dailey, wastewater treatment department employees Terry Kongar and Brandon Alberson, and Ben Adams of Commonwealth Engineering made the 700-plus trip to Lamar, a city of 4,100 residents that has employed new technology to lower its ammonia effluent.
    The Missouri town employs the use of a single 45-acre lagoon to treat its wastewater "and is very similar to our lagoons," said McKean. The mayor said Berne officials met with Lamar's city administrator and wastewater treatment supervisor to view the Sager bio-filtration system used in that city.
    The Berne officials were impressed with what they saw, and could employ similar technology to meet the new state limits on ammonia discharges.
    "It was time well spent. We were all very excited with what we saw, and Ben (Adams) was very encouraged, too," said McKean "On Thursday a group of us will go down to Indianapolis and meet with IDEM officials to make sure they're in line with what we're thinking. If everything goes well in Indy, we will bring back a proposal to council and see if that (the Sager system) is something we want to do."
    In his preliminary report to the council last month, Adams said that if the city's current lagoon system is retained, its sewage treatment capacity would remain at its current level. The installation of a mechanical treatment system — another option for city officials to consider — would increase that capacity, "but is considerably more expensive, a couple of million dollars more." Adams said future maintenance costs would be significantly lower with a lagoon system.
    Estimated costs were not offered for either of the treatment options, although Adams previously had termed the mandated upgrade a "multi-million dollar" endeavor.
    While the city is faced with critical decisions that ultimately will likely raise utility rates for residents by at least $10 monthly, Adams last month said Berne "is eligible for some pretty good financing" through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program.
    The engineer said the city qualifies for grants and low-interest loans that could finance up to 75 percent of the project. The loans feature a 40-year payback schedule and are available at 2.1 percent interest, Adams said.
    Yet to be determined, he said, is the portion the town of Monroe would pay for any improvement project. Monroe's waste water is sent to Berne for treatment, and under an agreement between the two communities Monroe is responsible for a portion of future upgrades at the Berne treatment plant.
    Adams said the current timeline is to begin construction of any new facility in 2014, and to have a new plant operational by August of 2015.