The Durango Utilities Commission and members of the city’s utility department staff clashed Monday over the planning process for a new wastewater treatment plant.
Board member Dick Reitz called on the city to take a closer look at building a new plant and all the options for moving it before committing to a remodel.
“All we’re saying is let’s get a few more pieces of information on the table before we make this decision we’re going to live with for decades,” he said.
Using cost estimates from the construction of the plant in Glenwood Springs, Reitz said a new plant on the south end of Santa Rita Park could be about $40 million. This estimate is on par with the cost for the first phase of remodeling the current plant called for by consultants.
However, Waste Water Treatment Plant Supervisor John Sandhaus, said Reitz’s exercise was flawed because the first phase of remodeling may not be enough to meet the needs of the plant.
“We can’t build something that’s not going to solve the issues,” he said.
The current plant must be upgraded or replaced because it can’t filter out enough nitrogen and phosphorous to meet new state regulations and to accommodate the expected uptick in wastewater as the city grows.
The plant is currently permitted to treat 3 million gallons per day; about 2 million gallons per day is now treated in the plant. But the plant staff struggles to keep high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, which cause large algae blooms, out of the river.
In order to be in compliance with state regulations, Sandhaus said the plant might have to be built to handle more than 3 million gallons per day.
“To get the balance between organic loading and flow, we have to build for both,” he said.
The city will be hiring engineers to do more design work on the plant, to follow up the initial work done in the fall by Dewberry, a consulting and design firm.
Dewberry was hired with a $1.8 million grant specifically to design improvements to remove nitrogen and phosphorous. They estimated the city would need $41.3 million for the first phase of construction and about $14 million for the second.
The city recently won a Department of Local Affairs grant for $1 million in design work. The city will match the grant with $1 million.
It is likely the company hired to do the design work on the plant will present the city with new estimates for the necessary plant upgrades.
In the meantime, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said he would schedule a public meeting for Reitz to give his presentation on a new plant to the City Council, after the commission unanimous voted.
At the request of city councilors, the city also is exploring the possibility of moving the plant south of the High Bridge on U.S. Highway 160/550.
Right now, no design work is being done on the plant.
“We’re waiting until everybody decides what they want,” said Utilities Director Steve Salka.
However, an estimated $400,000 project is ongoing to fix one of the basins where solid waste is separated from liquid waste.