McHenry moves to consolidate wastewater plants

McHENRY – The elimination of McHenry’s primary but aging wastewater treatment plant will cost the city an estimated $21 million.

City staff and the city’s engineering firm have proposed moving ahead on the project to take advantage of the low interest rates available through the state’s revolving loan fund and a potentially expedited approval process that would allow the city to finish the consolidation process before its current agreement with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is up.

If the McHenry City Council moves ahead with the project, the improvements could cost the average wastewater user $150 a year over the next 20 years, assuming no new system users, City Administrator Derik Morefield said.

The council in a 6-1 vote authorized the city’s engineering firm, HR Green, to draw up a professional agreement, which would then be brought to the council for approval.

The sole no vote came from Alderman Andy Glab, who questioned why the city wasn’t requesting cost estimates from other firms.

Most towns use their designated engineer for such projects instead of hiring another firm, city attorney David McArdle said.

The project’s inception dates back to 2005 when the city received a violation from the IEPA for discharging too much waste into the Fox River, Chad Pieper of HR Green said.

Repairs were made in 2006 to bring the plant back into compliance, but to address the underlying issues at the plant – which dates back in parts to the 1950s – the city proposed consolidating its two plants over the next 10 years, he said.

When the economy collapsed in 2007, plans to consolidate and expand the southern treatment plant were shelved, though the city did begin the consolidation process, diverting 30 percent of wastewater to the southern plant and 100 percent of solids for final treatment.

The central plant still serves two-thirds of the system's users, Pieper said.

The next stage as laid out by HR Green would cost an estimated $2.02 million to $2.68 million in engineering and $15.5 million to $18.6 million in construction and demolition costs, according to a memo from HR Green to the city staff.

These costs would need to be taken on by the city regardless of whether it moves ahead with the project now, Pieper said, adding that if the project is put off, the city would also have to pay to for continuing maintenance on the central treatment plant, plus any improvements required when the city renegotiates its 10-year plan with the IEPA.

"A lot of the equipment at the plant is long past its useful life, and we have been replacing things as they have been wearing out," said another HR Green engineer, Ed Coggin. "These are kind of Band-Aids that we've been putting on that plant over the years, and we'll need to continue doing that to keep that plant running."

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