HISID sends engineers packing on sludge removal

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

HOLIDAY ISLAND -- The Holiday Island Board of Commissioners put the brakes on signing a contract Monday with engineering firm McGoodwin, Williams & Yates Monday for preliminary design study of alternatives and identification of funding sources for processing sludge at the wastewater treatment plant.

The study would cost $8,000.

But even before such a study has been conducted, at the board's May 20 meeting, MWY engineers recommended a half-million dollar facility consisting of constructing a concrete block building and purchasing a belt press. They said the alternative, of covering the existing sand drying beds, would cost almost as much and would not address the problem of sludge drying out for transport to a landfill in a timely manner. While a cover would keep the rain off, it would also keep the sun off, and drying fans are not in the proposal.

MWY proposed constructing a 32-foot by 28-foot concrete block building to house a .5 meter belt press. The building would be constructed in the area of the existing sand beds. The entire cost would be around $537,000, which includes a 25-percent contingency.

A breakdown showed $240,000 for the belt press and associated equipment, $134,000 for the building, $55,000 for piping, electrical and mechanical and $107,000 for engineering.

To fund it, MWY said the district could look at a commercial loan or at a possible loan from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, with which it already has a loan on the wastewater treatment plant upgrade, with debt service of around $366,000 per year. Debt service on a new loan of $537,000 at 3 percent per year for 20 years would be about $36,000 each year, they said.

Another option is to continue to rent a belt press, which costs around $12,000 each time. The problem with that, Water/Wastewater Superintendent Dan Schrader told commissioners in April, is uncertainty about how often sludge will need to processed, so it is difficult to budget for it.

A number of questions remained unanswered from the May 20 meeting, such as why covering the drying beds had been estimated in the past at $70,000 when it now would cost almost a half million, why constructing a building or a cover under which to bring in a rented belt press on a truck is not an option, the obsolescence period of current belt press technology, and why a 20-foot berm was not built to shield the neighbors on Elm Lane, as promised when the wastewater treatment plant upgrade was underway. MWY was the engineer on that upgrade several years ago.

New questions arose at Monday's meeting, and Chairman Ken Ames led off with his opposition to the study at this time.

"We need to do something; there's no doubt about it," he said. "But I'm not sure that we know what we need to do at this particular point in time, at this junction."

He said last September when the district rented a small belt press, they probably should have retained it a little longer but were not sure how long they would need it for.

He said there is not enough data or history to tell how often and how much sludge would need to be processed. He suggested keeping a rented belt press for two or three months to be able to get the data needed and go forward from that point "in order to make a true decision."

He said if the district has to calculate out renting a belt press every year, it's possible one could be rented for 40 years before it would get to the half-millon dollar cost of a facility.

Commissioner Ken Brown commented on the plant upgrade done several years ago and the fact that several items were taken out of the bid at that time due to cost. He said he faults both the engineers and the board at that time for that because the plant was supposed to have been "state of the art." He wanted to know why the engineers didn't push for an upgrade in sludge processing at that time and inform commissioners that it would cost more down the road if they didn't do it then.

"Now we're in (2013), and we're looking at a half-million dollar fix to a plant that was supposed to meet our needs," he said.

Spending $537,000 "is really perilous to our budget at this time," he added.

Commissioner Linda Graves balked at spending $8,000 on a study and asked what data Schrader would provide to the board to determine whether they should spend it. Schrader said he was not sure how to answer the question.

Commissioner Bruce Larson said a professional evaluation would make sense at some point, but he also wants to see data.

"The drying beds took care of our sludge for 30 years," he said. "I wonder, couldn't we look at the tons of sludge year by year and see what the trending has been on that?"

He said he is concerned about the district having "limited capital financing ability," especially as it is looking at a potentially costly leak detection study and repair.

The board has put the study on hold until it can get more data.

In other business, the board:

* Heard Schrader give an update on Well #5 repair. The well is up and running and Well #2 has been taken offline again but is being kept in reserve in case it is needed.

* Heard Bill Branum report on the Solutions Committee, which is looking at Holiday Island incorporating as a municipality. He said the group is seeking answers to questions about how much it will cost to become a city, whether the district must have a police department and how recreational amenities and ambulance service will be handled.

* Heard reports from department heads. Golf Pro Barry Storie said revenue was down the first five months of 2013 by $23,000, "across the board" compared to 2012, except for annual activity card fees, which are almost the same as last year. He said golf rounds are down by 2,656, or 33 percent, but said the heaviest part of the season is still coming up. District Office Manager Marilyn Clave reported assessments at this time are comparable to last year. Golf Superintendent Mark Mowrey said his crew is stretched thin and asked for comp time for his workers to use in the winter. While he lauded the volunteers who have stepped up to help mowing, he outlined the jobs they cannot do and asked the board to look at adding personnel for his department, which has a seven-day a week job. Road Superintendent Kenny DeHart said the district will have a bid opening Wednesday, June 19, at 2 p.m. for its road paving program and that he sent out two bid packets.

The board will meet again Monday, June 24, at 9 a.m. at the district office. At the time, the board will considers proposals for a leak detection program, said Ames.

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