Chamber endorses wastewater ballot issues for April 5

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce has thrown its support behind the city's $72 million plan to pay for a new wastewater treatment plant.

But the 1,200-member business organization did so Tuesday with four caveats -- that the city should make sure to address concerns about plant odor, give local businesses a shot at construction contracts, keep the lines of communication open with the public and make sure rates are the same for business and residential customers.

Voters will be asked April 5 to approve two ballot measures that will determine how the plant and other improvements to city's sewer system will be paid for -- a $72 million bond issue to pay for the work and the extension of a quarter-cent capital improvement sales tax to pay back the bonds.

Chamber president and CEO John Mehner said he understands that the new plant must be built because the existing 50-year-old plant off South Sprigg Street is out of state compliance because it doesn't have enough capacity to keep up, meaning that 30 to 40 times a year untreated wastewater is sent into the Mississippi River.

He also understands that the city has been fined by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and that the city has agreed to build a new plant as part of an agreement to avoid further fines and to bring the city into compliance. Those were factors in the board's decision. The current plant could not be expanded because of sinkholes, city officials have said, which also made sense to the board, Mehner said.

But the board had some concerns.

"The biggest thing we heard as a concern was that this will have a smell," Mehner said. "We understand that there are things in place to deal with it. We just want to make sure that it is an integral part of the process. After all, the site of the proposed plant is in the middle of a business park and close to an athletic field."

Public Works director Tim Gramling said keeping odors to a minimum is a priority for those planning the plant. But the design of the tanks that will treat the wastewater at a new plant, proposed for 11 acres near the public works building on Southern Expressway, won't emit strong odors and won't be able to be smelled "unless someone is right over or right next to the tanks," Gramling said.

He said the treatment's aerating process emits a more "earthen" smell that isn't as offensive as the "egglike, sulfur" smell of the existing plant, Gramling said.

While Mehner said the board would like to see the contracting work go to local companies, Gramling said that is largely out of the city's hands. Lower interest state bonds that require voter approval also come with restrictions, Gramling said, such as an open bidding process. Once a bidder is selected based on applications, the main contractor typically hires out the subcontract work, he said.

Mehner also said the board wanted the public to be kept informed about changes that may further affect user rates, which Gramling said is standard for the city anyway. Mehner also said it was important to the board that residential rates and business rates for wastewater be applied the same. While rates will increase regardless of the vote -- city officials say they won't go up as much if voters approve the issues -- how much a bill turns out to be each month is based on water usage, not whether the user is a residential or commercial customer.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

2007 Southern Expressway, Cape Girardeau, MO

429 Cooper St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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