FORT MADISON - An EPA-mandated sewer separation project is getting increased attention from city officials as a deadline of 2029 grows closer.
The project involves separating the city's sanitary sewer and storm sewer lines to keep untreated sewage from mixing with regular storm water draining into the Mississippi River.
The city already runs all the water from both sewer lines through the city's treatment plant before it is dispersed back into the Mississippi River.
City Manager David Varley said a new plan of attack has been put in place for getting the work accomplished. But the city will need to extend the deadline to 2039.
The city has hired Ahlers and Cooney out of Des Moines to help navigate funding and extensions with the Environmental Protection Agency. Currently the city has four projects left with an estimated cost of about $8 million each.
"What we've been able to come up with is money for sewer and water projects coming from the state and federal government is few and far between," Varley said.
"What we have to do now is develop a plan of what we think we can do to get these projects accomplished."
Varley said the city can no longer go to the EPA and ask for an additional 10 years.
"We have to come to them with a plan that says, "here's how we plan to address these issues on the four remaining CSOs," Varley said.
Then the city would approach the EPA engineers to get them to meet with city officials to discuss the new plan for separating the sewer lines, while asking for time to come up with the funding as part of a consent decree.
Varley said part of the planning over the next 15 years will include figuring out how to pay for the work to include rate increases based on assumption of costs, interest rates, and performance of the sewer funds.
City Councilman Tom Schulz asked Mayor Matt Mohrfeld how much untreated sewer water is going into the Mississippi River now.
"Zero," Mohrfeld said.
"Not much," Varley said.
Mohrfeld clarified that a high intensity rainfall that would go beyond capacity of the system could result in some leakage.
Schulz said the city is looking at more than $30 million in mitigation to correct zero pollution.
Varley said there may be a little inaccuracy in that because there are some flow meters at the plant that aren't working properly and need replaced. He said the city could have been getting erroneous readings.
"We can't definitively say we're 100% positive were not dumping anything into the water and when it does happen it does get treated before it goes in," Varley said.
Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker said her previous understanding was that the city already had asked for an extension, and now she wanted to know how long it would be for the city to meet with the EPA.
"My mistaken belief was that we were working on this extension the whole time and now we haven't been - and now we are," she said. "What is our time frame to get with the EPA and tell them we need an extra 10 years."
Varley said he believes the city could get an audience via Zoom conference within three weeks.
In an unrelated issue, Councilwoman Donna Amandus said entries are coming in for the city flag and slogan contest. The deadline was extended into September so entries are still being accepted. Information can be obtained at Fort Madison City Hall from City Clerk Melinda Blind.
In other action, the council:
• approved applying for a Resource Enhancement and Protection Program (REAP) grant for additional PORT trail work.
•approved a partial payment of $94,807 for Fort Madison airfield lighting improvements.
•approved a resolution approving an emergency abatement on the James Block Building.
•appointed Jamie Carle to the Fort Madison Housing Authority.
•approved a second reading for a change to city code adding a $750 per day penalty for egregious civil infractions.
•approved a rezoning at 1629, 1633, 1641 33rd Street from single-family to limited industrial district.
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