DeKALB – A $52 million modernization project for the DeKalb Sanitary District’s outdated facility off Sycamore Road might begin as early as this summer, pending board approval and a loan commitment from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
This is the second phase of an improvement plan to keep the 90-year-old facility in compliance with stricter federal EPA regulations on water quality.
These regulations are partly aimed at reducing nutrients, including phosphorus, which encourages algae growth, which in turn saps oxygen from water, from entering the Mississippi River and out to the Gulf of Mexico, said district engineer Mike Holland.
“Right now, we’re not capable of removing phosphorus from the water,” Holland said. “We just do not have the ability, as it’s not something that has been required of us historically, but we’ve been told by the EPA starting in 2017 that we need to start removing it.”
Wastewater in DeKalb is treated using some methods that date as far back as the 1920s. The treated water is discharged to the Kishwaukee River, which flows into the Rock River and eventually the Mississippi River.
Executive Director Mark Eddington said the district will take out a low-interest loan through the EPA, with an interest rate of 1.75 percent over 20 years, for the full amount of the project. The district will repay the loan in installments of about $3.4 million a year.
“We’re sitting on roughly $12 million in reserves to bear the brunt of these early payments for the project,” Eddington said. “We don’t anticipate any significant rate increases to be able to fund the project right now. We’ve been saving money for a long time gearing up toward this.”
The district is expected to receive a renewed permit from the EPA on May 1, and needs to begin work on the improvements before then or risk being found in violation of the revised standards.
“If our plan goes forward, we’ll already be in the queue to make these improvements, so we won’t necessarily be out of compliance at that point,” Eddington said.
The project would require the demolition of 19 homes along Hollister Avenue acquired by the district. Some of these homes currently are being rented.
The land would be used for a new administration building near Sycamore Road with parking lots, operations buildings and roadways leading to the plant and facilities.
The district board approved a plan to seek bids for the work Jan. 18.
The demolition project is set to be bid on within a month and would start by June 1 if approved by the board. Eddington said this would cost about $350,000 and likely would be paid separately through reserve funding.
The bidding on the facility upgrades will be advertised Sunday and will open March 15.
One of the features of the new facility will be an on-site generator powered by bio fuel, which is created from the breakdown of biodegradable materials. The facility currently burns off gas generated by this process.
Eddington said that even if improvement plans fell through, the district still would look into developing a generator, which would cost about $3 million.
The district spends about $400,000 to $500,000 a year to power the facility. Eddington added that the combustible gases could power about half of the facility, and if the generator works well, there will be extra space for another.
“That’s our second-highest fixed cost after personnel, so anything we can do to recover the resources that are in the sewage we receive turn that into gas that we can use to fire engines that produce power is a huge win for us environmentally and costwise,” Eddington said.
In order to promote the plant as a regional wastewater treatment facility, Eddington said the district also wants to change its name to be more accommodating to neighboring communities.
“We want to be an option for neighboring communities if they want to get out of the wastewater treatment business and just stick a pipeline in the ground, we want to be a low-cost option for our neighboring communities,” he said.
Holland said that the potential for the facility to generate its own power is another reason why regionalization is a good course of action.
“You can’t provide enough fuel for a generator unless you have enough waste coming in, and a plant our size is just big enough to run one of these engines,” Holland said. “If you’re looking at instead of it as a waste but as a resource, and you collect as much resource as you can in one place where you can really utilize it, we think that is a strength.”
The board of trustees is expected to make a final decision in April or May once all of the numbers on construction and financing are finalized.