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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Expect New City Sewer Rates On Bills For Second Quarter

“We’ve been operating in the red for several years and now we have this $1.8 million project to pay for... We’re losing money every day. We can’t afford to drag our feet on this thing,” Supervisor Fred Meintz declared at the City of Peshtigo’s Water and Sewer Committee meeting Monday, Feb. 11, as he urged consultants from Kaempfer & Associates to finalize the new proposed rate structures in time for committee review in March and a public hearing and adoption at the City Council meeting in April. Meintz said he wants to see the new rates in place before second quarter billing goes out.

The committee agreed to reimburse city resident Paul Swiatnicki the $200 a contractor charged to open a clog in the city sewer line near his home, but not a $125 charge for televising the lines first.

They also approved a motion to inform the public of the necessary phone numbers and the policy on handling sewer problems, which is to contact the city’s Public Works department and let them handle it.

City Engineer George Cowell, in response to questions from the committee, said all after-hours and weekend calls to his office switch automatically to his cell phone. If a problem develops after hours or on weekends, sewer customers can call Cowell’s office number directly, or they can the police department’s non-emergency number. Calls to city hall are not answered outside of normal working hours.

After experiencing a sewer backup into his home last month, Swiatnicki had asked to be reimbursed $325 charges for opening a sewer clog that was causing backup into his basement.

The issue had been postponed from the January Committee meeting to get more information before reaching a decision, since reimbursement for hiring private sewer repair service is not in line with normal policy, particularly the charge for televising, since they saw no value in having a camera sent into a clogged sewer.

Cowell said he had learned since last month that Swiatnicki had called city hall to report the problem but it was nearly closing time for the day and he had said he could probably get through the night. Cowell said the message was not relayed to his office that evening, and when the backup got worse during the night Swiatnicki called in a private sewer cleaner. “It was our clog,” Cowell said, indicating payment for that portion of the work was fair. He did not see the benefit of the camera work.

Meintz was concerned about setting a precedent, and Cowell said they would need to get the message out to residents. Once previously a resident was reimbursed for repairs they had ordered and it turned out the problem was caused when the sewer line was inadvertently cut during a city construction project.

“The best advice I can give is to tell people to call us first,” Cowell said. His people can then determine if it is a city problem or with the line between the house and the sewer main.

Meintz said if people call late in the afternoon they should be given Cowell’s cell phone number. Meintz then moved to pay all but the $125 camera charge, and Dan Seymour added a formal requirement that the public be informed of the policy.

Cowell said there are several problem sewers in the city that his crew checks every Friday. Generally they can get clogs opened without needing to call in outside help.

A representative from Kaempfer & Associates presented information on proposed new rates for Class D sewer users, which include holding tank waste, septage and portable toilet wastewater hauled to the city’s wastewater treatment plant by private contractors.

Kaempfer people had based rates on treatment costs and rates charged by other communities for accepting septage and wastewater with similar characteristics.

The proposed rates include capital costs are in addition to volume charges based on type and amount of wastes delivered to the plant. Currently the city charges an administrative fee of $3 per load, and this will be raised to $5; the charge of $5 per 1,000 gallons for accepting holding tank wastewater will remain at $5 per 1,000 gallons; and the $27 per 1,000 gallons charged for septage will increase to $30. There had been no rate established for portable toilet wastes, and that charge will be $32 per 1,000 gallons when the ordinance goes into effect. Actual cost for handling that category of wastewater was found to be $31.94, according to the report.

Kaempfer had suggested also adding $30 per load as a lab fee charge for testing questionable wastes such as portable toilet wastewater, and the committee decided testing each load was not necessary, but they will charge $30 for random tests when needed.

The survey of other communities showed that some of them charge haulers an annual $100 permit fee plus an administrative fee of $20 per load per day. Cowell felt that was overkill, and the committee agreed. There are only a few regular haulers to the plant, most of them small local businesses, and some bring in very few loads, Cowell said. There will be no permit or administrative fees.

The only fee issue remaining to be settled involves volume fees and rates for large users, mainly the two Rennes Nursing Homes and the two schools. The consultants are to get those issues worked out and have the entire rate schedule ready in ordinance form for committee review one week prior to their next meeting, which was set for Monday, March 18. This will give time for any revisions needed before the April 4 City Council meeting.

Mayor Al Krizenesky said they could call a special Council meeting if needed to get proposed rates finalized in time for the second quarter billings. Wisconsin Public Service Commission approval is needed for water rate changes, but not for sewer and septage rates. A public hearing by Council or the committee may be needed, but that can be held immediately before the April Council meeting.

Meintz urged the Kaempfer representative to be sure the work is done in time for April approval. “This $15,000 contract item was given to you five months ago and it’s been moving very slowly,” he declared. “Nothing at all was done for two months.”

Meintz, Cowell, Chris Kaempfer, Gary Motkowski and Steve Brissette of BPM, Inc. had done an inspection of the wastewater treatment plant facilities in November and found some 60 items that need to be corrected. BPM, Inc. operates the plant under contract with the city. BPM, Inc. General Manager Jim Koronkiewicz said his team had prioritized nine items on the list to be done first, mainly those that affect safety. He invited Cowell or committee members to let them know if they wanted other items set as priorities. He said some of the dust and housekeeping issues can be expected until the construction work is done.

Providing temporary electric power during the switchover to the new equipment continues to be a problem. The Kaempfer representative said they have been working with the contractor, trying to find a cheaper way. The Elmstar Electric proposal last month had been over $99,000 for a temporary cable, and the committee postponed action to seek a cheaper solution.

Meintz asked if they could handle this as a new bid item, rather than just let the contractor charge whatever they want. He said the switchover could be done in just a matter of hours. The engineer said the contractor wants to have a temporary system in place until they do all the testing on the new parts and equipment.

There were some options proposed, including a cheaper temporary system that would cost about $60,000, and a permanent fix that would make the temporary system part of a loop later, at a cost of $156,000. Meintz objected that was a 10 percent increase on the total contract, and again suggested they should get bids.

Motkowski wondered if they could just use a main power line that came in from Harbor Road to bring power to the main building for use during the switchover. They then could use that line as a long-term solution as well. Cowell wondered if the main building could continue to be powered separately, and the committee agreed those options should be investigated.

The Wastewater Treatment Plant improvement project is faced with a March 31 deadline for portions being financed by a Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) grant. Testing with frozen ground adds greatly to the costs. Meintz felt they should go back to Mark Hannon of WPS to ask for a time extension so the work can be done in April instead, thus saving the cost of winter trenching.

Meintz said the committee was asking for the extra information in the interest of getting the job done safely and in the most economical way.

The committee agreed to hire Kleiman Pump & Well Drilling, Inc. for $1,550 to test well capacity, which Cowell said, “is something the DNR wants to happen.” The cost includes $250 for metering and piping. Hiring that work done will save local people a lot of extra work on the flow meter and discharge issues.

Overall, the project is continuing, but the committee was told cold weather had held up portions of the construction work because some of the heavy equipment didn’t run very well at frigid temperatures.

Several change orders were approved, including one that adds $3,949.27 to the Elmstar Electric contract to provide two additional exterior light fixtures that were on the architectural design but not on the electrical drawings and bid documents.

Cowell reported they had held training for his people on the lift stations. All seven of the lift stations are now on the new computerized system, but the one behind Badger Park needs some signal separation so they can tell via radio if the problem is power failure, temperatures, etc., Cowell said.

Partial contract payments of $92,000 and $4,800 for contract work completed were approved for Elmstar Electric.

Cowell reported the Wisconsin State Hygiene Laboratory report received on Jan. 18 shows everything was acceptable. Federal limits for fluoride content have been reduced from 1.1 per liter to .7 on the high end. He said this should be “interesting” for Peshtigo, since one of the city’s wells has .67 natural fluoride content. Adding fluoride to the municipal water supply is optional, Cowell said, but those who do add it must keep the amount within the approved range, both high and low.


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