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Panel mulls plant's future

By Hilary Corrigan

Triplicate staff writer

Sewer rates could start to rise in the summer after work begins in May on a more than $33 million renovation of Crescent City's wastewater treatment plant at Beachfront Park.

At a March 19 meeting, city officials will discuss how much more residents and business owners will pay. Bills could include an increase in August, after the new budget year starts in July.

The sole bid for the estimated $33 million project to revamp the facility came in last month at nearly $38 million.

City officials had expected to increase sewer users' rates over the project's three-year span to total about $50 more per month for the average home.

But the council must decide on a project plan, along with a bid from a partnership of three Eureka firms.

City public works director Jim Barnts will outline options and their associated rate increases during the March 19 meeting.

"It's just, how much money do you want to spend?" Barnts said of the plans, their total costs and the community's sewer bills.

Council could approve the bid from Wahlund Construction Inc., Sequoia Construction Specialties and O&M Industries, then draft a financial plan with a contracted firm to pay it with government and private loans.

The council also could reject the bid and act as a general contractor, hiring various construction firms to complete the project in a piecemeal plan that would double its expected three-year timeline.

Or, the council could scale the project back, saving about $1 million by using cheaper materials and losing components that would better clean wastewater before discharging it into the ocean.

That change would eliminate an extra filter system designed to remove nutrients that rob water of oxygen. The filtering would let the plant treat another 1.2 million gallons of wastewater each day, along with the 1.3 million gallons it now treats daily, to handle more new users from area development. The system would also ensure that the city meets state water rules on discharged water's nutrient levels and clarity.

The project aims to build new facilities and replace equipment to better treat the area's wastewater. Built in 1958 and renovated in the 1970s, the plant has violated state water quality rules, prompting state limits on connections for new users. About once each year during heavy rains, the plant's pumps fail to handle incoming water, letting raw sewage spew onto low-lying streets and up through drains in nearby businesses.

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