Berne City Council on Monday got its first glimpse at costly options that will bring the city's waste water treatment operation into complete compliance with new state limits on the amount of ammonia that can legally be discharged to area rivers and streams.
The city of Berne is under a mandate from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to reduce the amount of ammonia contained in its waste water effluent by the year 2015.
Ben Adams of Commonwealth Engineering on Monday evening outlined two options for what he termed the "multi-million dollar" endeavor. The preliminary engineering report must be submitted to IDEM by Feb. 1, 2013.
Adams said he looked at several various scenarios that would satisfy the state mandate, but told council members that in the final analysis there are only two options that are feasible — "and both are fairly expensive."
The city's current municipal waste water treatment facility uses two large lagoons in which to treat raw sewage, and Adams said one option is to retain the ponds and add a system to treat the waste water for ammonia. The other option, he said, is to abandon the lagoon system altogether and install a mechanical treatment facility.
He told city officials that new technology is being used successfully in several parts of the country at sites with lagoon treatment systems, and recommended that city officials travel to Missouri to view first-hand an example of that new process.
Adams said that if the lagoon system is retained, the city's sewage treatment capacity would remain at its current level. The installation of a mechanical treatment system would increase that capacity, "but is considerably more expensive — a couple of million dollars more." He said future maintenance costs would be significantly lower with a lagoon system.
Estimated costs were not offered for either of the treatment options.
While the city is faced with critical decisions that ultimately will likely raise utility rates for residents by at least $10 monthly, Adams 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 his report recommends proceeding with a project that retains the city's lagoon treatment ponds. He urged council members to study his report and to be prepared to recommend a course of action by the their January 28 meeting.
He 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.