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Gays Mills faces mandate on phosphorous levels
GM Village Hall

GAYS MILLS - There was an 800-pound gorilla in the room at the Gays Mills Village Board meeting Monday night and it seemed like it just a matter of time until it sucked all the air out of the room.

Two consultants from Davy Engineering sat patiently in the second row until the agenda finally reached their presentation. When they were done with their presentation on the DNR mandate on phosphorous abatement at the village sewer plant, the board had no questions or at least they had no questions they felt like asking anymore.

The good news about phosphorus levels at the sewer plant came earlier in the meeting. Gays Mills Director of Public Works Jim Chellevold informed the board that the village had received a grade of ‘B’ for phosphorous levels on its recently filed Wastewater Compliance Maintenance Annual Report.

The DNR had set 3.6 milligrams of phosphorous per liter of discharged water as the interim level for the sewer plant. And, the village had pretty much attained that level or levels lower than that in the previous year. The average for the past three years was 2.41 mg/L. In the last 10 reported months, the monthly average has been below 2mg /L, including March of 2017 when the average was 0.88mg/L. That was the good news.

The bad news was delivered by Davy Engineering’s Tim Holzer and Shawn Welte later in the meeting. Welte acknowledged the sewer plant had hit its interim goal, but pointed out the ultimate goal for Gays Mills treated wastewater is 0.1 milligrams per liter.

The consultant told the board that Davys had submitted an initial report on  the phosphorous situation to the DNR on behalf of the village on July 1, 2016 and on July 1, 2017 had prepared and submitted a status report on the situation on behalf of the village.

Welte then reviewed the situation and outlined some of the less-than-great options and alternatives the village faces moving forward as they try to meet the 0.1 milligram of phosphorous per liter requirement.

The village sewer plant was designed for a capacity of 87,000 gallons per day and it currently averages about 60,000 gallons.

To significantly reduce phosphorous from its current levels will take some retrofitting at the plant. Welte walked the board through one modification. He said a new clarifier could be added allowing the plant to treat its wastewater with ferrous chloride. This clarifier would have to be about 14-feet. The current 10-foot space would not be deep enough to accommodate the process and the additional sludge it would create.

Welte was also quick to point out installing this process would greatly reduce the phosphorous but probably still not achieve the mandated 0.1 mg/liter level.

The consultant reviewed some of the other alternatives for the village faced with this problem. One alternative was to find large sources of phosphorus from businesses like laundries, nursing homes, breweries and other industries that produce lots of phosphorus from there use of cleaning products that contain phosphates. Once identified the village could then work with those businesses in an attempt to lower the amount of cleaning agents that contain phosphate. Welte said in the case of Gays Mills this did not seem a likely route.

Another alternative would be to introduce biological control like algae. Trempealeau has gone that route and has their level down to .26 mg/L. However, the consultant was quick to point out instituting such a system would be difficult for the village given the style of  plant they have.

Yet another alternative is called adaptive management. It involves the village identifying farms that may have run-off high in phosphorous entering area streams in the watershed. The village would identify such a project, help fund the cleanup, police it and test the water results. Then, if reduction in phosphorous is achieved and documented that reduction can be credited to the village allowing it to exceed the 0.1 mg/liter limit it cannot meet.

“That’s not something I would recommend to you,” Welte said. He explained the costs and problems associated with taking on an adaptive management project.

However, the consultant explained if the county can help improve water quality with similar projects, it can sell the water quality credits to the village that in turn can use them to offset a higher level of phosphorus discharge. The consultant said Crawford County looked to be in a good position to undertake such actions and it was a possibility.

There are also variances granted on the basis of economic need. If sewer rates exceed two percent of the Median Household Income (MHI), the DNR can grant a variance to achieving the lowest level of phosphorous as it would create an economic hardship to the village.

The MHI (Median Household Income) of Gays Mills is $40,288 and two percent of that is about $806. That means the monthly average sewer rate at two percent is approximately $67.

Interestingly, the village’s current average monthly sewer rate is about $40. In a discussion earlier about a large shortfall in the sewer budget, board members were told the sewer rates would need to almost double to produce the needed revenue. Proposals of incrementally raising these rates included raising them 35 to 50 percent in the first year and then more in subsequent years. Any increase in rates would appear to push the village past the two percent of MHI putting it in line to receive a variance in compliance levels from the state.

Another factor affecting the variance would be the impact of the cost of improving the sewer plant to meet the 0.1 mg/liter standard.

At one point in answer  to a question, Welte said he believed an upgrade to the plant could cost the village $500,000.

Another factor involved is the plant’s age. A major interior upgrade is due by 2025 about the time the plant is scheduled to meet the new phosphorus level.

The consultant emphasized the plan bringing the village into compliance of phosphorus levels would of necessity have to be a 20-year plan.

The plans due in 2020 would be the design of whatever the village gets approved.

The consultant pointed out that seeking a variance would also involve the approval of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is also enforcing the lower phosphorous levels.

Welte said the plant producing 2 mg/L phosphorus is doing exactly want it was designed to do. He noted human waste is typically to the 4 to 6 mg/liter range and the plant is reducing that by a half to two thirds.

“This would’ve been solved a long time ago, if they had just given everyone a 1 mg/L (standard),” Welte said. “We need to get you out of this situation somehow. Ideally, what we’ll try to do is get you a variance of some sort.”

The consultant urged the village to utilize all the time the DNR allowed. He noted that there is developing technology that will increasingly help meet these extremely low phosphorus goals.

“Look, if we can push this down the road five or ten years, maybe the technology comes to us,” he said.

On July 1, 2018 a preliminary compliance alternative plan is due then on July 1, 2019 the final plan is due. Davys will do the preliminary plan for about $5,000 and the final plan for $15,000 charging the village about $20,000 for the planning.

“I knew this was coming,” Gays Mills Village President Harry Heisz said. “I just didn’t know it was coming this fast.”

“It’s coming fast,” Welte responded. “It gives you some time, not a lot of time. You need to use that time. The clock is already ticking.”

The meeting pretty much started with an update on the status of the village-owned mosquito fogger.

Director of public works Jim Chellevold told the board that he had the sprayer out and had cleaned it up. However, he could not get it to run,

“If there is a dire need to spray, I’d recommend calling Soldiers Grove and see if they could come down and spray some areas for us,” Chellevold told the board. It was decided Chellevold would try to replace the old gas and continue to work on getting the sprayer motor started.

In his report on the Kickapoo Culinary Center and Community Room, Brad Niemcek said he was cautiously optimistic about the kitchen again because this month there are two new clients—one signed up and the other eager to sign a contract.

Niemcek told the board that he would like to alter the current contract for using the community room to remove a section in the contract that allowed use of the walk-in cooler in the community kitchen for an additional $25.

Niemcek told the board that someone using the kitchen as part of renting the community room left the door to the cooler open and ruined $80 to $90 worth of product stored there. He noted that a sink and refrigerator separate from the community room are available to anyone renting the community room. Also anyone renting the room can also rent the entire kitchen for $15 per hour.

Niemcek said that he believes the rental rate on the community room for weddings is way too low. People familiar with renting wedding spots said comparable rooms can run $2,500. The village is currently charges $100. Niemcek wants to start with raising the rate to $500.

Neimcek said he would get back to the board with his final proposal on raising rental rates on the community room.

“I just want to warn you it's coming,” Niemcek told the board of the increase in rental price for the community room.

In other business, the Gays Mills Village board:

• approved the Wastewater Compliance Maintenance Annual Report

• received an update on the Stump Dodger Trail from Bad Niemcek

• received a response on the Rural Development Sewer Loan indicating the authorities in charge were not interested in forgiving some part of the loan or refinancing it to a lower interest rate

• discussed the revenue shortfall for sewer service and the need to increase the per gallon rate substantially

• heard a report from Davy Engineering on the possibility of gaining assistance for drilling a second well in the village and approved reapplying for it

• repealed and recreated an ordinance that allowed ATVs and UTVs to use village streets as trails after clearing up some problems with street names in the ordinance as passed last month

• got an update on the Gays Mills Mercantile Center that included establishing a two-week deadline for a tenant to make a choice on the space on the north east corner of the building.