CAMANCHE — The Camanche City Council held a special committee of the whole meeting Monday to hear public input regarding the city’s options of upgrading the current wastewater treatment plant or joining with Clinton in a new sewage treatment facility.

Camanche City Engineer Dan Solchenberger explained that the city’s current wastewater treatment plant has not been renovated in the last 17 years and is in need of upgrades to be compliant with new National Pollution Discharge Elimination System standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Camanche applied for and received a $550,000 Community Development Block Grant in March. Solchenberger said in the process of investigating necessary upgrades to the current system, the Department of Natural Resources suggested discussion with Clinton officials about a possible combined system to serve both cities. Clinton’s City Services Committee is in the process of site selection for a new treatment facility estimated to cost as much as $25 million.

Solchenberger detailed five different options facing the city, three of which involve Camanche upgrading the current facility and two scenarios in which Camanche hooks into Clinton’s proposed treatment plant.

He explained the pros and cons of the options, saying that if Camanche keeps its current facility, capacity would increase by approximately 30 percent and the city would control user charges. Solchenberger said capacity would be limited for industrial uses and more upgrades likely would be necessary within five to 10 years, possibly from DNR or EPA regulation changes and user charges likely would have to be increased to pay for those future upgrades.

He said if Camanche were to pump sewage to be treated to a new Clinton facility, excess capacity would allow for industrial and residential development in Camanche and if regulations changed, Clinton would be responsible for complying with new regulations. Solchenberger said user rates could increase at a faster rate over a 15-year period after joining with Clinton in the new facility and Clinton could have more control over the rate structure depending on the details of an agreement between the two cities. If Camanche joined Clinton in the new facility, the Camanche Public Works Department still would have to maintain city sewer pipelines.

Camanche resident Donna Current asked Solchenberger if the city would lose its CDBG funds by joining with Clinton. Solchenberger said the grant was allocated to update the current plant and he would have to inquire whether it could be used for other purposes. County Board of Supervisors Chairman Lewis Todtz, a Camanche resident, asked if the two treatment systems were combined, could a commission be appointed consisting of representatives from both cities in order to best protect the interests of both parties.

Clinton City Administrator Jeff Kooistra said an agreement likely could be set for Clinton and Camanche to share the facility so officials from both cities would have a say in its operation.

Residents questioned where the facility would be located, noting that Low Moor and Elvira also have indicated an interest in hooking up to the Clinton facility. Jay Brady, engineer with Stanley Consultants, said possible sites are being determined but the site likely would be situated between the two cities if Camanche decides to pump wastewater to the Clinton facility.

Camanche Councilman Kenneth Fahlbeck asked if Camanche would lose a city employee upon joining Clinton’s facility. Solchenberger said he would have to discuss that possibility with Public Works Director Dave Rickertsen but the cost of operations and maintenance personnel was figured into operating either facility.

Camanche Councilman Trevor Willis asked if Camanche’s decision to hook into Clinton’s facility would affect the size of the potential new Clinton plant. Clinton Water Pollution Control Superintendent Gary Schellhorn said design plans call for the plant to be big enough to allow for plenty of industrial growth in the region.

Camanche City Attorney Tom Lonergan said one of the cons facing Camanche if they maintain or upgrade the current facility is the lack of sufficient capacity to allow for industrial growth in Camanche. He said he has been suggesting Camanche join with Clinton in a wastewater treatment plant for 15 years and doing so would provide for a more orderly economic development.

Kooistra added that growth potential would be figured in to the capacity but the error there would be to overdesign the plant and have potential capacity go to waste if Camanche doesn’t join the new facility. Lonergan said joining with Clinton may be a good plan but he is not positive it would be prudent to shut down the Camanche facility in the near future.

Camanche Mayor Jim Robertson said one difficulty would lie in operating through two systems. Lonergan noted that the Clinton plant would include an extra 10 percent of capacity for processing waste from Camanche, but then Camanche would not have its own facility. Willis asked what the timeline is on the new facility and Brady said the facility should be up and running in the next couple of years.

Willis asked what DNR would do to the city in the meantime while not being compliant with new regulations. Brady said investment in upgrading the current facility would not preclude inclusion in the Clinton facility later, but Camanche is facing an investment of $2 million in renovations and the potential need to perform more upgrades later.

He said it would be more cost efficient for Camanche to join Clinton and be out of the treatment plant business. Brady said the DNR likely would work with the city on whatever Camanche officials decide to do.

Brady said it would be easier to join in the new Clinton facility now rather than later. Camanche Councilman Steve Cundiff asked how soon plant engineers would need an answer from Camanche officials. Brady said they would like an answer in the near future so that design plans for the plant could be narrowed down. He added that representatives from the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce and the city of Clinton have been seeking federal funding assistance and noted that federal agencies favor regional facilities.

Camanche resident Rich Orman asked what type of facility the new site would be. Brady explained the Clinton facility would primarily be a liquid treatment plant featuring water clarifiers and digesters to break up solid materials. He said the Camanche facility likely would be used as a screening system before pumping wastewater to the Clinton site.

Current asked if the treatment plant would be located between Clinton and Camanche and Brady said the shared plant could be situated between the two cities to allow for potential development along the western edges of both cities.

CACC President Dennis Lauver said industries contemplating coming to the area do not investigate positioning themselves in Camanche because treatment capacity cannot serve new industry. He said if Camanche joins the Clinton plant, future industries could look at many sites in the region, making Camanche more competitive in the business market.

Lauver added that a regional plan would be more acceptable because costs would be shared between several cities and the county board might respond more positively to an all-inclusive plan. Todtz agreed, saying Elvira is looking at applying for grants to help with its treatment plant problems.

“If it’s possible that there’d be some common system that would work for Elvira and everybody else, we’d be more than happy to look at the options and see if we might be able to come up with a win-win-win-win situation where everybody benefits,” Todtz said.

Robertson said joint city service ventures were not a new concept, that in fact they are becoming a trend. He said joining Clinton is a real possibility but there is a lot to look at while trying to protect Camanche’s interests.

Camanche Councilwoman Linda Kramer asked Rickertsen what he though about the proposal, as he has been involved with the treatment plant for more than 30 years.

Rickertsen said he would go along with whatever the council decides but noted federal funding is providing for the three-laning of Washington Boulevard but no one in Camanche desires a three-lane road. He said if Camanche joins the Clinton plant, funds could be found within the city to rebuild Washington as the city wants or could fund the hiring of a city administrator.

Camanche Councilman Ron Wehde reiterated that the Camanche treatment plant still would need additional upgrades within 10 to 20 years after the immediate renovations. Lonergan noted that money still would have to be spent to make the Camanche facility a collection point for pumping to the Clinton plant.

Solchenberger said $1.7 million would be needed to make the Camanche facility a preliminary treatment plant and to fund connecting that facility to the Clinton plant. Kramer said the grant of $550,000 would leave more than $1 million to come up with, and that would be if the grant money could be used for the alternate purpose.

Willis asked how much future upgrades could cost and Solchenberger said additional funds of up to $2 million or more could be needed over the next seven to 10 years to keep the plant up to date. Brady said the funds still would be put into trying to keep a 50-year-old facility viable instead of investing in a new plant. Current asked about the existing sewer pipelines and if those would be replaced in Camanche. Rickertsen said the costs of replacing pipelines was not figured into any of the scenarios. Brady advised that if Camanche joined the Clinton facility, federal funds possibly could be used to improve pipeline infrastructure within the city.

Camanche resident and business owner Amy Hayes asked what the timeline was regarding a decision from the city on joining the Clinton facility. Solchenberger said engineers would like an answer within the next couple of months. Wehde noted the city is under more pressure than that and Robertson added there is little the city can gain by delaying the decision.

Kramer said more information is necessary before council members can make that decision and Brady said he could make sample facility-sharing agreements available to council members for review. Robertson asked what the council would like to proceed with, whether it be having more discussion or possibly forming a subcommittee to investigate the options. He added that the purpose of the meeting was to provide a public forum for discussion and an attempt to get something accomplished.

“I think we all want that but I think we also have a lot of questions,” said Kramer. “Tonight is the first that we’ve heard a lot of this, for some of the council.”

She said many people in attendance may need time to process the information presented. Lonergan said Camanche City Clerk Carol LaMont should be allowed to contact the Clinton City Clerk and compare current sewer rate billings. He said much needs to be taken into consideration including Clinton’s recent problems with sewer billings and any anticipated rate increases in Clinton’s future, as well as recent rate increase history.

“Nobody likes surprises,” Lonergan said. “If we do something and the rates jump, and historically you can say they were headed this way and you didn’t check into it, you all can be criticized at the voting booths too. I think we need to do a little bit of homework to compare apples to apples right now.”

Brady pointed out that the projected costs of the new facility are estimates and officials are hopeful the actual costs will be less. Kramer said the council knows officials are looking for an answer sooner rather than later, but with so many “ifs” to consider, including the possible dual use of grant money and wording of a sharing agreement, more time is necessary to decide.

Schellhorn agreed it is not an easy decision, noting the relative difficulty Clinton officials have faced in planning the treatment plant.

“We realize it’s a tough decision for a council,” he said.

Robertson said he was not trying to rush an answer, only maintain forward momentum and discussion in order to reach a decision. Brady said copies of other region’s sharing agreements would be forwarded to council members within days and Clinton officials would be available to answer any questions or address any concerns Camanche representatives might have.

Robertson said the council hopes to have a better understanding of the options by the next council meeting on July 5.

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