Members of the Pierce City Board of Aldermen held a special meeting on Tuesday, July 30, to discuss possible funding sources for the $750,000 wastewater improvement project. Attending the meeting were Jeff Riekhof, of Clearwater Environmental, LLC in Springfield, Tyson Markham, of McKinley and Company in Kansas City, and Andy Novinger, of Anderson Engineering in Springfield.
Novinger opened the meeting by informing those in attendance of the need for the city to be in compliance with Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) requirements concerning wastewater treatment.
"The DNR is requiring the disinfection of discharge from the city's wastewater treatment plant," Novinger said. "The project will require ultraviolet (UV) lighting, replacement of the city's main lift station and new screens to filter out debris from entering the treatment plant."
Novinger said disinfection with UV lighting would reduce the number of potentially harmful viruses and bacteria released with discharged water into Clear Creek, which is beneficial to aquatic life as well as people who use the creek recreationally and come into contact with the water.
The city's primary lift station, located along the railroad tracks, pumps all incoming effluent up the hill to the treatment plant.
"If it goes down, nothing gets up to the plant," Novinger said. Jeff [Riekhof] has done a great job of maintaining it, but it is becoming more costly to repair and it would be better to spend money on replacement pumps than risk a malfunction that would result in the spillage of raw sewage."
The third component to the project is the screening, steel bar grates, that filters out debris from the effluent and keeps it from clogging up the pumps at the treatment plant.
"You have sludge that is applied to land," Novinger said. "The DNR is cracking down on plastics and other debris that is not meant to be on the ground. We need finer grates to keep those things from entering the plant."
Novinger said funding for the project could come in several forms. The most beneficial to the citizens of Pierce City would be to pass a bond issue to be used in conjunction with low interest United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and DNR loans and grants. The city may qualify for a DNR grant that would match up to 50 percent of improvement costs as well as a DNR low interest loan from the state revolving fund. Those funds, at less than 2 percent interest, would be used to pay for costs beyond the value of the grant.
"We have verbal assurances that the grant is locked in and available," Novinger said. "However, it's not guaranteed until the paperwork is signed."
Should the bond issue fail, the city would be forced to consider municipal financing, which would have a higher interest rate than the DNR. Funds borrowed would have to be repaid, and the city would again have to raise sewer use charges to compensate for loan repayment, operations and maintenance to the facility.
"The clock is ticking by the DNR," Novinger said. "If the city is not in compliance, the DNR can levy fines in the $10,000 range. If the city remains non-compliant, eventually, the state will take over operations of the plant.
"The days of milk and honey are over," he continued. "Once the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), DNR and Attorney General get involved, it can financially ruin a city. The state will first penalize and then they will set your usage rates."
Novinger said passage of a bond issue would allow the city to complete the improvement project without a rate increase.
The bond issue will be on the Aug. 7 ballot. The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.