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Marengo's new wastewater plant to open after numerous setbacks

MARENGO – City officials expect to start a modernized wastewater treatment plant by next week, putting to a rest a $12 million project in Marengo that encountered numerous delays in the past five years.

Crews from Peoria-based Williams Brothers Construction took about 18 months to build the new plant, which can double Marengo’s pumping capacity and features new treatment technology.

“We now have a plant that can grow incrementally,” City Administrator Gary Boden said. “It suits us better for our future, allows us to deal with residential expansion and gives us a leg up on trying to market ourselves for industrial expansion.”

Located along Route 23 near the Kishwaukee River, the new facility replaces an existing plant that dates to the 1940s. The $12 million project represents the largest public works improvement in the city’s history, Boden said.

Despite numerous upgrades to the aging plant, state environmental officials in the late 2000s urged the city to replace it after it reached maximum capacity and couldn’t meet newer environmental regulations.

The planning and construction that followed ultimately dragged city officials through a process that endured numerous fits and starts and questions from residents upset at higher wastewater bills.

After the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency approved the project in 2010, city officials’ first construction attempt ended before it started, after they received bids that exceeded the project’s budget by nearly $4 million.

Meanwhile, City Council members in 2011 doubled wastewater user rates for residents and businesses to cover a $12 million IEPA loan for the project, despite objections from residents.

McMahon and Associates – the city’s former project engineer – eventually stripped the design, and council members in April 2012 awarded a construction contract to Gurnee-based J.J. Henderson that fit within the city’s $12 million loan.

Weeks after construction started, workers unearthed old refrigerators, washing machines and other solid waste below the plant expansion site, which was knowingly designed on top of a buried landfill.

Officials abruptly halted construction in September 2012, after the construction firm expressed concern that the old landfill would add significant costs.

City officials have said they initially proceeded with construction on top of the landfill after engineers from McMahon and Associates assured them the landfill wouldn’t complicate construction.

The city cut ties with the project’s engineer less than two months after the construction stoppage, paying McMahon and Associates about $400,000 for completed design work. Marengo also severed its contract with J.J. Henderson, since the project needed a restart.

Under new direction, engineering firm H.R. Green started to redesign the troubled wastewater project in late 2012, with a new location away from the buried landfill.

The council also temporarily cut wastewater rates for residents until construction restarted. Residents will see wastewater rates return to $7.30 for every 1,000 gallons used by August, as officials begin to payback the $12 million, 20-year IEPA loan.

In fall 2013, council members again awarded a construction contract under H.R. Green’s design. The $10.69 million bid went to Williams Brothers.

Since the 2012 stoppage, officials didn’t encounter major issues with the project and came away with a better product, Boden said. Public Works Director Jayson Shull said his department has been testing the new equipment at the plant during the past few weeks, as staffers prepare to open the plant within the next week.

“It’s a more effective treatment process. It’s a more efficient, and we double our capacity,” he said.

Construction workers also have to finish minor landscape and parking work to the site. The city would then look to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony in late May or early June, Shull said.

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