Posted on

State loan will help pay for Greene wastewater project


By Bob Steenson,

A $3.46 million dollar low-interest loan will help Greene pay for improvements to its wastewater treatment plant, but won’t do much to reduce the high rates customers are paying for the project.

The Iowa Finance Authority and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources recently announced that Greene had been awarded the $3,462,000 low-interest loan as part of a total $64 million in water quality loans for 17 Iowa communities from a state revolving fund.

Jayne Knapp, Greene city clerk and finance officer, said the city has also received a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant to help with the total $4.2 million project’s financing.

Revenue from sewer system customers will be used to repay the state loan and for any additional expenses required to complete the project through revenue bonds, Knapp said.

The city is adding another cell to its wastewater lagoon system and adding special equipment to that cell to meet state requirements for reducing ammonia levels.

“There’s a few months out of the year where our ammonia levels are too high, Knapp said. “Basically, a lot of small towns are getting hit with this DNR mandate. If the DNR tells you you have to do it, you have to do it.”

Traditional wastewater lagoons have a hard time getting rid of ammonia when it’s really cold out, especially if the lagoon freezes over and  nitrogen-reducing bacteria don’t have access to atmospheric oxygen.

To solve that problem, Greene is installing what’s called a SAGR system, Knapp said.

The SAGR (submerged attached growth reactor) system uses a fully aerated clean stone bed at the bottom of the lagoon to provide a place for the bacteria to work, according to a company that installs the systems. There is often a layer of floating mulch of some sort on top of the lagoon to help prevent freezing.

Knapp said the city has had to significantly raise its sewer rates to pay for the new system.

“We have installed a monthly flat fee against the sewer system that we have been doing for probably close to two years now, trying to get some reserves built up to help make those payments,” she said.

Residential and commercial customers now pay a $30 per month fee, in addition to the monthly usage rates, which were also increased.

The increased costs “will be ongoing for quite a while, probably, unfortunately,” Knapp said.

However, the additional cell will give the community more wastewater treatment capacity.

“Actually, we did built it with an anticipation of a small increase in population,” Knapp said. “We aren’t expecting any booms, but we did build it with anticipation of some growth.”

The project was expected to be finished this past fall, but the wet weather conditions delayed construction.

“They actually worked up until probably 10 days ago,” she said on Tuesday. “Now I’m sure it’s going to be a matter of hurry up and wait until the weather turns decent again. “Hopefully, things work out and we get back on schedule — don’t have a wet spring.”

Iowa Finance Authority Executive Director Debi Durham said, “We’re proud to offer the state revolving fund as a key financial mechanism for communities to affordably upgrade their water infrastructure. This program helps keep costs low for taxpayers and helps to position communities for economic growth.”

Iowa communities and municipalities have received a total of nearly $3.3 billion in construction loans and more than $240 million in planning and design loans since the revolving fund program began.