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Tiffin begins planning for new waste- water facility

Planning ahead so sewer isn’t a drain

TIFFIN– As one of the fastest growing small towns in the state, it’s tricky to meet infrastructure needs without getting in debt too deep, too fast.
That’s why Tiffin administration and city council has already put in motion the process for addressing over-worked wastewater facilities.
The council received some good news at its Aug. 20 special meeting, when Bob Veenstra of Veenstra & Kimm (V&K) Inc. engineering firm explained how Iowa’s State Revolving Fund (SRF) loan program works for financing wastewater projects like this; cities can obtain loans for the project at zero percent interest during the planning and design phase, and a rate of just two percent interest for the construction phase, for a loan duration of up to 20 years.
“There is no other place you can borrow money at two percent for 20 years. That program is better than what you can probably sell your own general obligation debt for, so it makes sense to look at that,” said Veenstra.
Veenstra further explained there is a lengthy lead-time for the loan application process, and the planning and design phase along for a $5 million wastewater project takes between 24 to 30 months.
“So even if the project may be tentatively scheduled for construction in 2016-2017, you need to start it a little earlier. If you truly think you need to do something in 2016-2017, you should probably take some preliminary steps as early as this coming year,” Veenstra said. “Even if we go lickety-split, we are still four years out.”
Because Tiffin’s city works employees already have concerns about the plant’s ability to handle flow for development already in progress, City Administrator Michon Jackson said the situation was more than urgent.
“It is critical capacity at this point because for what we have now, running at 80 percent, if we don’t push the sewer plant expansion up sooner, we are at maximum capacity until (the expansion is) done. We are at a critical point right now,” Jackson told the council.
Wastewater engineer Randy Krutzfield of Hart Frederick Engineering further underlined the pressing nature of the project in a timeline his firm furnished to the council.
“It appears Tiffin’s population will reach the maximum capacity of the (existing) treatment plant in about three to five years. Projected population for 20 years from now is around 6,000 to 10,000 people, about two to three times the current capacity of the plant,” Krutzfield wrote.
Further, pushing the plant’s capacity causes it to function inefficiently.
“Currently, high wet weather flows, due to inflow and infiltration (I&I), cause raw sewage to overflow the headworks channel and bypass around the screening mechanism. This allows solids and rags to get through and causes problems with the pumps and the treatment tanks. This contributes to the cost of maintaining the plant, is a safety and health issue for the operators, and compromises the ability to meet permitted discharge limits to the creek,” Krutzfield added.
The existing facility was built in 2000, with a capacity to serve 3,140 people under normal conditions. The 2010 census listed Tiffin’s population at 2,347 people.
After hearing Veenstra’s presentation, staff concerns and the engineer’s recommendations, the council was ready to take advantage of the program, anxious to stay within the recommended timeline for such a large undertaking.
If the council approves the proposed project timeline, the initial planning and evaluation phase will begin in November and take approximately one year to complete. Design would begin in December 2015, and construction would start nearly a year later, in January 2016. Completion of the facility was projected for May 2017, after approximately one and a half years from the construction start date.
Ben Carhoff, also an engineer with Hart Frederick, told the council on Aug. 26 that the firm would propose a design that would add a capacity for 9,000 people, and use the existing facility to bring the city’s total capacity to a level large enough to accommodate a population of about 12,000.
He also told the council that if it wished to take advantage of the state’s SRF loan program, state officials favor shovel-ready projects.
Council member Peggy Upton expressed the council’s consensus to proceed.
“I think we all are on board to get it going,” Upton said. “And we need to be shovel-ready or we’ll all be shoveling.”
The council was expected to consider the proposed timeline at its Sept. 10 meeting, subsequent to the publication of this newspaper.