Aging equipment, a lack of space and sinkholes near Cape Girardeau's waste-water treatment plant have prompted city officials to begin talking about building a new plant.
Interim city manager Ken Eftink said money in this year's city budget will pay for hiring a consulting engineer to study what the facility has now and what the city would need to do in order to come into compliance with state and federal regulations, as well as to determine how a new plant can meet the growing needs of the community.
On Monday, the city council will discuss hiring Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. of St. Louis.
Every five years, the city must obtain a new permit from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in order to operate the plant. The most recent permit, issued in 2006, contained a condition that waste bypasses to the Mississippi River would no longer be allowed without certain treatments.
The plant on the city's south side did not meet new limits, and in 2006, the DNR gave the city three years to comply. The deadline is Oct. 1, after which the city could be fined up to $10,000 a day. But the city will be negotiating a new schedule, or settlement agreement, with the DNR that will extend the deadline.
"The actual term 'settlement agreement' is not negative. These agreements are just a tool the department uses to help bring people into compliance, to help them out with meeting regulations," said Michael Abbott, an environmental specialist with the DNR's water protection program. Abbott has been working with the city on complying with the new limits since 2006.
He said the treatment plant faces several hurdles to complying with the new permit.
Abbott said the plant would need to expand but that expansion would be unlikely because nearby sinkholes could risk environmental contamination. Some equipment the city uses now doesn't meet EPA requirements, which Abbott said would require an upgrade.
Public works director Tim Gramling said upgrades would be substantially cheaper than new construction -- $15 million versus close to $35 million -- but that the city couldn't justify spending millions of dollars on property plagued by sinkholes.
In addition to equipment and geology problems, the plant can't handle much more waste water.
"It's at capacity, and it's basically an almost 50-year-old facility, which was its design life to begin with," Gramling said.
He said the design of the current facility allows 7 million gallons per day to pass through the plant. The plant processes 6.5 million gallons per day now.
"It couldn't handle any more substantial growth, either from subdivisions or a large industry," Gramling said.
Gramling said a location for a new plant had yet to be determined but that there is land the city already owns at the southeast corner of Commercial Drive near the current plant that would be suitable.