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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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BPM, Inc. Advances Plans For Water Resource Recovery Facility

Issue Date: August 15, 2019

BPM, Inc. General Manager Jim Koronkiewicz informed the City of Peshtigo's Water and Sewer Committee on Tuesday, Aug. 13 that plans are moving forward rapidly for construction of the paper mill's new on-site water resource recovery facility off West Front Street between the railroad tracks and the Peshtigo River.

Once completed, the mill's use of the city owned wastewater treatment facilities will be greatly reduced, as will its water and sewer bills.

Koronkiewicz said on Friday, Aug. 8 he and other BPM, Inc. people met with engineers from ISG to review initial design plans. "The DNR says there are zero red flags" as far as their permitting process goes, and everything looks good to go forward with construction as planned.

BPM, Inc. intends to submit preliminary design plans to the DNR by Oct. 31 and start construction late in the second quarter of next year. Startup is expected in late December of 2020 or January of 2021.

Koronkiewicz asked who he should contact to get whatever construction permits are needed from the city. Committee Chair Tom Gryzwa advised him that building Inspector Tom Smith would direct BPM, Inc. or ISG engineers to the right people to get the necessary permits.

The committee spent much of its time at Tuesday's meeting discussing possible changes to the city's process for collecting overdue water and sewer bills, and for notifying property owners of possible leaks when their meters show greatly increased usage.

Present for the meeting were Randy and Judy Ehlers, who asked the committee to change the over use notification policy. They live in a rented mobile home in a Peshtigo trailer court and had a water leak that they were unaware of until they opened their quarterly bill and found a notice that they might have a leak.

The utility's policy is to allow a once in a lifetime credit for the sewer portion of the bill if it is shown that the leaking water did not go into the city's sanitary sewer system.

In a letter to the committee the Ehlers had stated they were shocked on July 15 to open their quarterly water bill and find it was for $522.10. Their entire bill for the previous quarter had been $114.82 plus the fire protection fee. With it was a note that read, "your meter was read twice to check for accuracy. Please check your plumbing system for possible leaks."

The letter asked why they were not notified at the first reading or at the second meter check. "A note on the door would have saved us a tremendous amount of frustration and money," the owner said. The letter stated the leak was repaired just five hours after they opened the letter advising them that it might exist.

At the meeting, Judy Ehlers said the leak had gone on for weeks after they could have been notified. She said they want to see the system fixed so things like that do not happen again to them or to other people.

Public Works Director George Cowell said their procedure has been the same for years. The meter readers on the first readings do not know if anything is unusual. That would be found when the numbers are entered in the city office. Then, if there is something out of order it is a red flag that means a second reading. Sometimes, it is a leak, sometimes a meter problem, mis-reading, or some other issue.

Gryzwa asked if there is any way people can read their own meters to keep an eye on the usage. Cowell said some types of meters allow this, some do not.

Gryzwa suggested that at the second reading they should personally notify the owners that there may be a leak. Dan Seymour agreed they could do that. Cowell said they generally try to get hold of people if there are really high reads. Randy Ehlers noted their bill was over $500, and wondered if that wasn't considered a high read. There was talk of some bills getting as high as $5,000 or even $10,000 before the leak was discovered.

Judy Ehlers said since their mobile home is over sand and has no basement they could not see or hear the water running from the leak under it, and possibly due to the frequent rains there was no noticeable added moisture around it.

It was agreed that since the leaking water did not go into the sewer they would get the one-time credit for the sewer portion of the bill - $202.42. Calculations showed they used 35,700 gallons of water during the quarter, compared to their usual average of 4,500 gallons, so they were credited for 35,700 gallons that came out of the water lines but did not go into the sewer.

Gryzwa agreed something should be done."We apologize for the glitch and we will certainly try to take care of it," he told them. "You are not alone in this situation."

The committee, which consists of Gryzwa, Seymour and Fred Meintz, voted unanimously in favor of granting the $202.42 credit which is in line with established policy.

Gryzwa said he, Tammy Kasal and Cowell will work on an improved system for notifying customers of possible problems.

Moving on to discussion on a possible new policy for water and sewer billings and shut-offs, Gryzwa said Kasal had noticed a large number of accounts in arrears for long periods of time and recommended a change in process.

Kasal said they have been negotiating payment agreements that start with payment of one third of the past due amounts, but she learned at a recent training session that the Public Service Commission (PSC) recommends they start with trying to get at least half of the past due amount and then negotiate two or more payments for the remainder.

Kasal said they are willing to work with people to avoid shut-offs. For example, if the shutoff date would be on Thursday but people say they can pay on Friday, they will extend the deadline to Friday. There are no shut-offs on the weekend, but if there has been no payment by Monday, there would be no additional notice and service would be turned off. Getting water turned back on after a shut-off costs the customer an additional $40, but it costs the utility more than that to turn the service off and then turn it back on again, Cowell said.

Peshtigo has been providing more placard notices to customers than is required by PSC, but Cowell strongly recommended keeping what they now have, and continue to placard before any turnoffs for delinquent bills. He also strongly urged that they never do turnoffs on a Friday because people then cannot get their service restored before Monday.

"We want to take care of our residents, and they have to take care of their bills," Gryzwa commented.

Kasal suggested a policy of sending out past due bills with 14 day notices, and then placard with another 2-day notice, followed by shutoff if no agreements are made and the bill is not paid. She said last time there were six customers on the placard notice list and only two of them paid when they said they were going to pay. She said it is generally the same people on the past due list or breaking their payment plans.

"It's tough times and we should give them a break if we can,"Gryzwa urged.

Cowell said people scheduled for shut-off have some rights. For example, they can appeal to the PSC, and once the appeal is filed their service cannot be shut off. If the PSC decision is not in their favor then then get an additional seven days to pay the disputed bill.

The committee unanimously approved a recommendation from Gryzwa to stay with the resent placard policy for now. At the suggestion of Administrative Secretary Becky Barrett, they will now put the payment agreements in writing, rather than having simply verbal agreements.

Meintz agreed that getting all payment agreements in writing is a very good idea.

Gryzwa asked her and Kasal to put a step by step process into writing as to what procedure they follow now for notifications and payment arrangements, and what changes they would like, and bring it back to the committee.

Also at the meeting were Pete and Naomi Cramer, owners of one of the local mobile home courts. They wanted the water and sewer bills collected promptly so they do not end up paying for large delinquent accounts if the mobile home owners move.

Kasal said she has learned that in a mobile home park where the mobile home is owned by a person who rents space and pays a separate utility bill, that bill stays with the person and not with the mobile home or the property it sits on. If the mobile home is sold or moved, the owner of the mobile home park is not responsible for the bill. The mobile home court owners are responsible if the home itself is leased from them and the bill is in their name.

Cowell said in 1999 the city and the mobil home court signed a one-year agreement for water and sewer service and it was never renewed. He suggested having the city attorney look it over, and change provisions if the information Kasal had is correct.

Gryzwa commented with the new policy, "the person responsible for the bill (at the time it was generated) remains responsible forever."

Cowell reported the DNR wants the city to prepare a sanitary sewer report with records for all city mains shown, including design plans for private water mains.

He said letters have been sent out to well owners reminding them to get their private wells, including sand points, registered, because enforcement is coming for the first time as of Saturday, Aug. 31, and citations will be issued staring in September. Forms for registering wells are available at City Hall. Sand point wells in basements are illegal and will need to be capped off, Cowell said.

To be registered, other wells must meet various standards and be tested for bacteria. Once a permit is issued it is good for five years.

The DNR will be in the city doing inspections on Sept. 26 or 27, Cowell said.

They now want reports on all complaints received regarding water and seer systems, along with what was done about them.

One of the city's wells showed a high radium reading on one test, but then it was back down to normal.This will be monitored, Cowell said.

One water lateral in the city was damaged during the storms on July 19 and 20. A tree toppled, and the roots tore up the water line.

The school has now provided documentation that storm water from roof drains is no longer going into the sanitary sewer system. Cowell said they need to work with more property owners on disconnection of sump pumps.

The PFAS/PFOS problems Peshtigo has faced are not unique. Cowell said the DNR has sent letters to all wastewater plants in the state asking them to test for the compounds.

Cowell said one of the sludge pumps failed while transferring sludge from the main tank to the storage tank, and BPM, Inc. was able to put them into contact with people who could repair it. He thanked Koronkiewicz for that.

Asked about the sewer work needed to get water service restored for the ball park, Cowell said the issue may finally be settled.The property owners are requiring capping and disconnection of the sewer line across their property and refused to execute a lease for the water line until that was done. The sewer line was disconnected and capped on July 10, Cowell said. Since that issue is resolved, they can finally put in the new water line to the ball park. He believes a local plumber may donate the labor needed to extend the water line, but that will probably leave $4,500 for the city to pay, since that potion of the property is city owned.


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Peshtigo, WI 54157
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