Photo by Carla Waters

Watseka City Council members aldermen Dennis Cahoe, Brandon Barragree, Mayor John Allhands, alderwoman Jenny Musk and alderman Mark Garfield listen to Keith Mulholland of Robinson Engineering at the public hearing.

A Illinois Environmental Protection Agency low interest loan was the topic of a public hearing Nov. 23 for the Watseka City Council as it considers a project to separate combined sewers in the city.

Keith Mulholland of Robinson Engineering led the hearing and described what the loan would entail.

“This is for the preliminary environmental impact determination,” Mulholland said. “There are two projects that you are looking at for the EPA low interest loan projects. One is a water project. One is a storm sewer separation project. The water main did not require a public hearing. This is a public hearing for the sewer separation project.

“Whatever public comments come in will be added to the report and sent to the EPA as part of the entire project. The EPA loans are part of the revolving loan fund.”

Mulholland noted that the city owns and operates its own wastewater treatment plant. “Wastewater comes in to the treatment plant and it gets processed and then discharged to the Iroquois River. There are come combined sewers still within the city and those head to the treatment plant. What a combined sewer is it takes in both storm water and sanitary water. The problem is once anything makes it to a sanitary pipe it goes to the plant and has to be treated, so if its storm water it gets treated the same as if it’s sewer water.”

He said the city has been working to separate the storm sewer from the sanitary sewer so it doesn’t all go to the treatment plant.

There are two different parts of the project. The storm sewer component is 260 feet of 12 inch storm sewer, 3,650 feet of 48 inch storm sewer, 10 inlets and 16 manholes. The inlets are along Kay Street. They are in the parkway and the grass areas. The manholes are where the laterals or the pipes coming from those inlets join the main line and where we have multiple pipes come together. We are also looking at about 330 feet of sanitary sewer. During some preliminary investigation the city found that some of the sewers had some issues with them. As part of this storm sewer project there’s 330 feet of sanitary sewer that will be replaced that is 15 inch and four manholes.”

He said the storm sewer project will start on Walnut Street about 300 feet west of Kay Street. It will head east. Once it gets to Kay Street it will head north along Kay Street to North Street. At North Street it will continue almost parallel with the railroad tracks to the Iroquois River. The sanitary sewer project will start about 100 feet south of Oak Street and head to Victory Street. This project is along Kay Street.

Mulholland said there are several reasons for doing the project. Heavy rain events, he said, send large amounts of water to the treatment plant. There are processes and certain capacities there. If the flows are too great from the heavy rains, he said, there are secondary treatment measures that have to be done, which have some limitations. “If there’s a long enough rain and there’s enough heavy flows it will start to overwhelm the treatment plant process. Separating that will help reduce the flows. Separating those storm flows will also help on the cost side of it. Every gallon of water that goes into that treatment plant is treated as if it’s wastewater. So the less flow that goes there the lower your chemical will be to treat it. The lower your utilities will be, lower costs for labor and lower equipment costs because they don’t burn out as fast. The more that we can pull out of that plant the more cost effective it will be.

“The other issue that happens is when combined sewers get what is called surcharge, so they are full, you have a greater tendency for sewers to back up into basement or into businesses or residential units and in a worse case it will actually come up to the surface of the ground and discharge on the ground. This will help with those as well.”

He said the project is estimated to start in July of 2022 and end in November of 2022. The cost is estimated at $1.3 million. “This is being looked at being looked at for financing through the EPA through a low interest loan. The current interest rates are 1.11 percent for a 20 year loan. That would result in an annual payment for the city of just over $77,000. There are 2,161 customers, so the cost per customer per month is $2.97.”

He said Watseka is eligible for both debt forgiveness and a low interest loan. “At this time the EPA has a 45 percent loan forgiveness so the entire loan value the would write off 45 percent of that. You’d also be eligible a reduced interest rate which would be 0.83 percent. If Watseka would receive both of these incentives that would lower your annual obligation to $42,000 and it would come out to about $1.61 per customer per month.” He said the state re-evaluates the numbers each July.

Mulholland said EPA looks at median household income, which in Watseka is $39,281. It also looks at sewer rates. Currently Watseka is charging 1.78 percent of a person’s median household income. Both of these are in Watseka’s favor for the debt forgiveness and lower interest rates, he said.

The project has been reviewed by several state offices and have found no other issues with the project.

Public comment forms have been left at city hall if people want to make comments on the project.

Mulholland said the EPA will issue a list in March of who has been approved for the funding. The funds will be released in July.

If this project is funded and completed, it would separate a majority of the combined sewers, Mayor John Allhands said, but there are some that will still be combined.

The water project starts at Third and Elm. There’s 3,829 feet of 8 inch and 192 feet of 6 inch main. That project is going through a similar revolving loan fund, but did not require a public hearing, Mulholland said.

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