MARTINSBURG - While Martinsburg's wastewater treatment plant complies with its existing permit, it will have to undergo major upgrades to meet new, strict pollution limits imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by the end of 2015.
"The plant was last upgraded in 1990 to 1991 to meet increased flows and regulations," Steve Knipe, the city's utilities director, told Martinsburg City Council members at their regular monthly meeting Thursday.
"We are at a point of another upgrade because of increased regulations to meet future nitrogen and phosphorus reductions," he continued. "We are not capable of meeting the future requirements. We need a major upgrade to the plant, which is driven by the Chesapeake Bay program."
Last year, the EPA issued new pollution limits to the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed under a presidential executive order to greatly reduce the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution from getting into the bay through its tributaries.
The Potomac River is one of the bay's major tributaries and the greater, eight-county Eastern Panhandle is in the Potomac River watershed.
Martinsburg council held a public meeting to present the city's facility plan for improving its sewer treatment plant to meet the new pollution reduction requirements, an estimated rate analysis for the proposed project and an opportunity for the public to comment on the plan.
O'Brien & Gere Engineers Inc. and Chester Engineers began drafting the facility plan in September 2009, and the final report was presented in November 2010.
Bill Meinert of O'Brien & Gere explained Thursday that a comprehensive study of the city's treatment plant was performed for the facility plan.
He said that in the final report, eight alternatives were considered that offered a wide range of options and costs. The recommended alternative would meet the EPA requirements and provide the highest quality treatment for at least 20 years.
The cost estimate was $45 million.
City Manager Mark Baldwin explained that the public meeting was the first step of the process to apply for funding and permitting.
In addition to the facility plan, an estimated rate analysis for the proposed project had to be prepared, he said. The accounting firm of CoxHollidaPrice LLP did the analysis.
According to the analysis, the city's current sewer rate is $3.85 per 1,000 gallons.
If the city were able to get a 40-year government loan at 0.5 percent interest, the estimated rate would be $7.30, the analysis indicated.
If the city were to have to go through the private bond market for a 40-year loan at 5 percent interest, the estimated rate would be $11.18, according to the analysis.
Baldwin emphasized that the analysis was not able to take into account any funding the city might be able to get through Senate Bill 245, which was passed by the state Legislature during its last regular session.
Shepherded through the Legislature by Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, SB245 sets aside excess lottery revenues to float a bond that would pay for about 40 percent of the cost to upgrade the sewer treatment plant.
The balance will have to be covered by the sewer system's customers.
However, the state will not know exactly how much money it can get through a bond issue until next year, and the money will not be available until 2013. The more funds the state can get from the bond, the less rates will have to be raised.
The only person who spoke during the public comment period wanted to know if a treatment system called biomag had been considered as one of the alternatives.
Meinert said that the biomag system was not compatible with the existing treatment operations, entailing all new construction. It would cost more than the recommended alternative, which retains as much of the existing plant as possible.
Council members unanimously adopted the facility plan, which will be submitted to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for permitting review and to the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council for funding review.