2007-12-22 / News

Good news for Buckeye Lake Sewer District customers

Sewer By Charles Prince

NEWARK - It looks like Buckeye Lake Sewer District customers will get an extra gift this year.

Late last month, Ohio EPA released its Draft Water Pollution Control Loan Fund Program Management Plan. It includes a $9,036,500 loan for the now nearly complete expansion of the Buckeye Lake Wastewater Treatment Plant. The project is scheduled for award in January which meets the requirement that the loan be awarded before the project is in operation.

The small customers group that has been working with Licking County Commissioners to keep sewer rates as low as possible reviewed the 50+ page draft plan from Ohio EPA. The draft listed the project at the standard long term interest rate which is a minimum of 3.25 percent. Group members were instrumental in urging commissioners to apply for the loan and doing the initial determination that the district qualified for the one percent hardship interest rate.

The concerns about the interest rate were raised during a December 10 commissioners' update meeting with Water and Wastewater Director Kevin Eby. "The (Ohio EPA) draft was created before we qualified for the one percent loan," Eby reported. He said the Ohio Department of Development confirmedthat the district qualified with a population of 6,560 and a median household income of $37,241. That population fell well within the required range of 2,500 and 10,000, but was below the locally generated estimates. The $37,241 median household income was higher than locally estimated, but still below the $38,000 maximum.

Last week, Eby confirmed that Ohio EPA concurs that the district qualifies for the one percent interest rate loan. That confirmation also adds four points to the district's overall score on the priority list.

The impact of the one percent interest rate loan for customers is dramatic. For the one percent loan, interest for the 20 year term totals $978,710. At the anticipated standard interest rate of 3.36 percent, interest would total $4,638,815. That's a savings of over $3.6 million over the next 20 years. Commissioners were originally planning to issue revenue bonds at an estimated interest rate of 4.75 - 5.0 percent. At fivepercent, interest expense would total $5,465,743 over 20 years - almost $4.5 million than Ohio EPA's one percent loan.

One issue still remains. The Ohio Historic Preservation Officecommented that construction was started before an assessment of adverse effects on historic properties was completed. Eby said a complete assessment was done in 1985 before the original plant was built. That assessment covered the entire site. "Nothing has changed archelogically," Eby said. He later reported that the district's project contact at Ohio EPA meet with the Preservation Office. According to Eby, that meeting went well, but the federal 106 process requires review by the National Advisory Committee. That group has 14 days to respond which should run out by the end of the year. If they don't respond, the state Preservation Officewill sign off on the project.

Eby had more good news for customers and the commissioners. The department's 2008 budget will be less that the 2007 budget. The customer group had objected to the projected annual increase for salaries and operations & maintenance. They have been cut respectively to 3.5 and 4.0 percent.

A new administrator was hired in October to replace Eby after he was appointed director. Jeffrey Pickeral previously was Muskingum County's utility director. He is currently reviewing and updating the rules and regulations for the department's three districts. "We've got to get them up to the 21st century," Eby said. He is still "thweaking" the Buckeye Lake rules.

Eby also reported increased efforts to reduce I & I, which is inflowand infiltration of water into the sewage collection system. Specifically,all trailer parks and campgrounds on the system have been told that all sewer connections must be plugged at ground level with a waterproof cap whenever a trailer or camper disconnects from the system. The new program includes inspection. Reducing flows to the plant, will cut operating expenses.

The department has also purchased 100 plastic covers that fitunder manhole covers and keep water from entering the system through the holes in the covers. The district has a lot of manholes in low lying areas, resulting in thousands of gallons of I & I during storms.

In his construction update, Eby said operator have been running flow through the new process since Nov. 20. So far efforts to establish the bacteria that breaks down the waste haven't been too successful. Cool weather slows down the process and Eby plans to get the next batch of starter sludge from the City of Newark. He has formally notified Ohio EPA and US EPA that the construction schedule under the consent agreement with both agencies will then to be extended from Dec. 1, 2007 to April 1, 2008. The construction delay was caused by delays in getting the construction permit from Ohio EPA. "They knew we were behind," Eby said.

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