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Waste not, want not


The City of Marengo is anticipating drastic changes to the city’s waste water treatment system.

Marengo Public Works Director Lonnie Altenhofen told Marengo City Council Sept. 28 the city has been operating without a certified operating license for some time now, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is cracking down on cities with similar issues.

“We are not in trouble, per se, but we know we will have to do a lot more with those lagoons,” Altenhofen said. “(City engineer) Dave (Schechinger) has been working very diligently on talking to the DNR and trying to figure out what we need to do to hopefully buy us some more time or try to get ourselves back in compliance with them. That will become a very big issue in the next couple of months.”

Within the last two years, Altenhofen said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was successfully sued for not enforcing the nation’s Clean Water Act.

The EPA in turn, is mandating the state DNR to enforce stricter discharge limits on local wastewater treatment facilities.

Altenhofen said these limits have not been set. He said the city is anticipating that they will have to do something to meet the new limits, however, they cannot make any decisions until they know what those limits are.

“We want to see what our limits will be before we take any drastic measures,” Altenhofen said. “We are just going to have to wait and see what comes down the pipe.”

He said it could take one to three years until the EPA has the new limits set. Then once the limits are set, the city will have about another three years before the DNR expects the city to have a new system in place, Altenhofen said.

The main issue with Marengo’s lagoon system is the high concentrate of ammonia being discharged in the winter, Altenhofen said. The ammonia discharge meets the limits in spring, summer and fall, but he said in the winter a sheet of ice over the lagoon prohibits the ammonia from leaving the lagoon.

The city is looking at several options to potentially alleviate this problem, Altenhofen said.

The city is looking at the possibility of buying a “blanket” that lays on top of the lagoon in the winter, that keeps the lagoon heated while at the same time allowing the ammonia gas to release. This would cost $1 million to $2 million, Altenhofen said.

The city is looking at the possibility of pumping the waste water directly to the Iowa River, which would require the city to build a new pump station.

Altenhofen said the city is also looking at the possibility of building a brand new mechanical plant, which could cost $2 million to $3 million.

“You want to spend as little money as possible but at the same time you don’t want to bite yourself in the butt because later on you are going to be out of compliance,” Altenhofen said. “There are a lot of options, it’s just that we don’t know which options are best for us.”

In the meantime, the city engineers are working on various things to present to the DNR in order to buy Marengo some more time, Altenhofen said.

The city’s waste water system has trouble with inflow and infiltration (I and I), Altenhofen said. There is an influx of surface water and ground water seeping into the waste water system.

He said the city may do a smoke test to locate seepage points. The city will also look into putting on water tight manhole covers.

“This fall we are going to put together a game plan of how we are going to tackle our I and I. Then this spring we will try to put some chimney seals in,” Altenhofen said. “We are always actively doing that to some extent, but we try to do that as budgets allow. We are going to have to budget a little more now just to get things rolling.”

The city already raised utility bills two years ago to pay for the water treatment plant built last year. In addition to undertaking street improvement projects, Altenhofen said the city is pretty well tapped out.

He said the federal government may provide some funding to help pay for the waste water treatment mandates, but even if they do, the funding will be spread thin.

“The problem is, they can throw a whole lot of money at it, and there are so many little towns like Marengo, that even if they could throw hundreds of millions of dollars out, it is not going to get anybody anywhere because it is going to be spread out so much,” Altenhofen said. “It’s not just us. It is a very big issue right now, everywhere, especially in Midwestern states where aerated lagoons are pretty common yet.”

There are several small towns in the area, such as Ladora, facing the same problem, he said.

Marengo City Engineer Dave Schechinger, Veenstra and Kimm, Inc., said he is also working with West Branch to alleviate the same issues.

“This is the same situation almost every community in the state with an aerated lagoon is in,” Schechinger said. “They can’t meet the ammonia limit in the winter and they don’t know what those limits are going to be, so they are violating their discharge permit.”

Schechinger said the city is taking steps in order to show progress to the DNR and to buy a little time.

“I think we have a plan right now the DNR will accept and keep our costs pretty low,” he said. “We have to go down and make some checks on a few things and make sure it will work then we will put that together.”

Marengo City Administrator Brent Nelson said he did not want to project any budget figures or comment on how the city would pay for any waste water treatment projects until the city receives recommendations from Veenstra and Kimm engineers.

“We will then look at ways of either getting by with what we currently have or go to a whole new facility,” Nelson said. “I can’t give you anything until I see the dollar amount.”

City reports loss for 150th event

The City of Marengo had to cover a $10,000 deficit for the Marengo Sesquicentennial Celebration, but event organizers say the money will be paid back.

Marengo City Council approved a check in the amount of $10,234.28 be paid to Picnic in the Park, Inc., the non-profit organization that paid for Marengo’s 150th birthday celebration, which was held July 2-5.

Marengo City Administrator Brent Nelson said the final bills came in for the celebration, and they had to be paid.

“The city is going to have to cover those bills until we can get them reimbursed by Picnic in the Park,” Nelson said. “It’s not the best thing in the world, but I guess it could have been worse.”

Picnic in the Park made its money back, and then some, on the beer garden, the Marengo history books, the sesquicentennial cookbooks and the other merchandise, Nelson said. The organization lost money paying for the live entertainment, stage, sound and lighting, he said.

“It is a big expense to provide free entertainment, but I think a lot of people enjoyed it,” Nelson said. “It is always a big expense when you are planning to bring that many people to your town. All in all, it was a good celebration.”

Also, the inflatable kids rides were shut down early Saturday, July 4, because of rain. Sesquicentennial committee co-chair Candi Schmieder said she believes there would not have been a loss if the inflatables were available for the duration of the celebration.

Schmieder said Picnic in the Park plans to hold more fundraisers to pay the city back, as well as to build revenue to help fund future Marengo celebrations.

“We want to build that back up. We still have things to sell, coins, history books, cookbooks. We are also trying, fundraisers for the holidays, and through the hospital. We will go out there and sell stuff. So if anybody wants to volunteer to help sell that stuff, we will take volunteers.”

Marengo Sesquicentennial Committee Co-chair Cathy Essick said she expects the committee to be able to pay back the city through sales of the history books alone.

History books, cookbooks and coins are still for sale, she said, and they expect to sell quite a few for Christmas presents.

In addition, Essick said the third series of Marengo Sesquicentennial calendars will be available soon.


UPDATED October 7, 2009 2:08 PM

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