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Joint sewer plant project for Gays Mills and Soldiers Grove discussed
GM Sewer Plant

GAYS MILLS - A proposal to build a joint wastewater treatment plant with the Village of Soldiers Grove was explained at special meeting of the Gays Mills Village Board on Tuesday, Oct. 8.

Michael Davy of Davy Engineering and two other engineers employed by the firm were on hand for the presentation. The engineers used about 20 pages from a 72-page report to help illustrate points in the presentation. The report was titled ‘Final Facility Plan Wastewater Treatment Gays Mills, Wisconsin.’ It was dated July 2019.

The plan sprang from conversations held earlier this year with the two villages and the North Crawford School District about the possibilities of working together on creating a new sewer plant.

Both villages are operating sewer plants that are about 50 years old. Both also face major challenges in the years ahead on multiple fronts. One thing staring them in the face is the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources requirement that the effluent released from the plants reach a 0.1mg/L phosphorous level. Neither plant is anywhere near that level now nor are the plants even designed to remove phosphorus from wastewater.

If the sewer plants were newer and/or faced less other challenges, it might make sense to consider adding a tertiary treatment unit to lower the phosphorous content of the effluent to the acceptable level. That option would be costly, but less costly than building a new plant.

The problem for both villages is that the plants themselves are old and in need of repair. In the case of Gays Mills, the wastewater treatment plant off Railroad Street, built in 1972, is in the floodplain and heavy flooding often makes it inoperable. In fact, heavy rainfall and wet soils lead to massive amounts of groundwater and runoff water entering the system and overwhelming the plant’s ability to treat the sewage.

In a telephone interview with the Independent-Scout on Monday, Oct. 14 Michael Davy discussed the situation of wastewater treatment and sewer collection systems facing the villages.

Davy and the report provided a look at some of the problems and proposed solutions for the village.

Aside from phosphorus levels, that are currently in the range from  3 to 5 mg/L that need to be brought down 0.1 mg/L, the Village of Gays Mills has a host of other problems. 

Despite having new sewer mains installed in most parts of the floodplain in 2006 and 2007, the village continues to have a massive problem of water infiltration into the sewer system. This creates a volume of water in the sewer plant at times that is five to 10 times what it should be and it overwhelms the plant’s ability to process wastewater. The result is the release of large amounts of untreated wastewater.

To solve that problem, Davy has proposed to build a pressurized system using one-inch pipes inside of the newer   existing four-inch laterals and putting four-inch pressurized sewer pipes inside of the newer eight-inch sewer mains. 

The proposed system would be pressurized by small grinder pumps at each residence or business. The installed cost of these pumps would be about $7,500 and be covered by the collections system upgrade.

The pressurized wastewater system would stop infiltration and be collected at special south lift station. From there it would be pushed northward toward the plant that would be located in the Appleland Business Park adjacent to the Gays Mills Department of Public Works building. 

The plant would be capable of handling the wastewater from both villages under normal circumstances. And, if the school district decided to join the system their wastewater could be treated as well, according to Mike Davys. 

Soldiers Grove wastewater would be pushed by a lift station through an eight-inch pipe running along Highway 131 to the new plant in the Gays Mills business park.

In addition to having that capacity, the system would have two million gallons of storage capacity for water that might infiltrate in other areas that would not be pressurized, like the old section of Gay Mills. The water would be held until a flood or heavy rain event stopped and then be brought in to be treated as volumes returned to normal.

The Village of Soldiers Grove is in a slightly different position than Gays Mills, but ultimately faces the same problem.

Soldiers Grove was ordered by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to discontinue the practice of drying their sludge prior to removing it from the plant. The village must now pay to have tankers haul the liquid away for disposal.

The village’s current plant is even older than the Gays Mills plant. Like Gays Mills, Soldiers Grove must ultimately lower phosphorus levels in the effluent leaving the plant to 0.1mg/L. That would not be possible with the current plant without building a tertiary treatment add-on next to the plant at a cost of several million dollars. The problem for the village is that building an add-on tertiary treatment facility to lower phosphorus levels would still leave them with a plant that is more than 50 years old that needs to be replaced.

Officials in both villages can see the sense of working together on a joint sewer plant. However, both village presidents and others are worried about the costs.

“You have to do something,” said Jim Chellevold, the Director of the Gays Mills Department of Public Works. “Whether we build our own or go with the joint treatment plant or try to modify our current plant, we have to do something.”

Gays Mills Village President Harry Heisz can see doing a joint project, but is concerned about the costs to the village. Gays Mills is still paying for sewer bonding for work done to the mains in 2006.

“I think a joint project makes sense,” Heisz said. “It would help both towns. 

“But, we have to see if the numbers are feasible,” the village president added. “Actually, there’s no choice, we will have to do something.”

Heisz worries about the costs.

“I can’t put the taxpayers in a bind,” Heisz said. “We will ultimately lose usage, if the costs are too high and we drive people away.”

Soldiers Grove Village President Steve George sees advantages to working with Gays Mills on a joint project, but worries about the cost as well.

Davy Engineering has not made the presentation to the Soldiers Grove Village Board, but it is anticipated they will in the coming month.

“It doesn’t meet the standards these days,” George said of the aging treatment plant. “So, we can try to build ours back up. We’re probably in the same place as Gays Mills. If it’s possible, we could work together.

“(Davy) hasn’t met with us,” George said. “We’re for it, if everything is correct. It’s old. Both villages would be better off and further ahead.  If Gays Mills and Soldiers Grove can agree we hope to move ahead. We haven’t seen the proposal, so we don’t know the final cost.”

What is the final cost of the joint sewer treatment plant with the collection upgrades as proposed by Davy?

In Table 11.2 of the Davy proposal, Example Financing Plan-Rural Development, the total cost comes to $14,379,220. The Gays Mills portion is budgeted at $8,406,751 and the Soldiers Grove portion is $5,972, 470. The main reason for the increased cost to Gays Mills is the almost $1.7 million more that will be spent in the floodplain of Gays Mills improving the collection system by pressurizing it.

The project is expensive enough, that it passes a threshold for aid, which is two percent of median household income. Paying for the improved system would make the cost of sewer service closer to 3.5 percent of the median household income in Gays Mills.

So, in the Davy example, USDA Rural Development would provide a grant for 75 percent of the cost of the project. Lowering the cost of the bond issue to $2,185,758 for Gays Mills and $1,552,838 for Soldiers Grove.

Another possible funding source for a joint treatment plant would be the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Fund.  While there are differences between USDA Rural Development and the Clean Water Fund, both are viable options, according to Davy. The engineer noted that funding sources look favorably on joint proposals.

Another factor in the joint project would be adding sewer water from the North Crawford School to the treatment plant. Initially approached as a possible partner in the project, North Crawford is now seen more as potential large customer by the engineering firm.

North Crawford School District Administrator Brandon Munson said the district would be willing to review some numbers to see what the costs would be. The school is currently using a 30-year-old septic system for its 536 students and staff.

Another potential for more users are the current residents and many unused lots in the Olson Subdivision heading south on Highway 131 leaving Soldiers Grove.

Will a new improved joint wastewater treatment facility be built for Gay Mills and Soldiers Grove with help from a large federal grant? Stay tuned. Remember as almost everyone involved from the village presidents, the department of public works, and to Davy Engineering agree-that something has to happen.