Council faces decision on Tupelo sewage plant

By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

The front systems at Tupelo's waste water treatment plant have failed over the past five years and the city faces a major monetary outlay to renovate the plant or build a new system.

Adnan Shindala, with Cook Coggin Engineers Inc., walked City Council members through a virtual tour of the plant via a computer slide show during a work session Monday.

The plant, built at a cost of $16 million in the early 1980s, was designed to last 20 years, officials said.

The 20 years are up.

The system's mechanical bar screen cleaner, which removes large floating materials, does not work and the bar screens must be manually raked, Shindala said. The grit remover, which removes sand and similar materials before they reach the bacteria tanks, also does not work.

"Basically, the front phase of the system does not work," Shindala said.

Following phases aren't in much better shape, with recurring questions on what will work and what won't at any given time, he said.

Shindala called it a "miracle" that plant operators were able to keep current discharges within state and federal standards.

Failure of any of several pieces of equipment could cause the entire treatment system to fail, subjecting the city to large fines by environmental authorities, officials said.

Shindala said the city is faced with two options: Renovating the current plant, which will be no easy task, or building a new more modern system.

"The only thing you can salvage is the concrete structure. You'll have to bring in all new mechanical equipment," Shindala said of renovating the existing plant.

And he conceded even the integrity of the concrete structure was suspect.

The only plus in renovation would be the initial cost, assuming treatment regulations don't change over the next 20 years, he said. The downsides are several, including continuing high operation and maintenance costs, he added.

Building a more advanced system, with simpler mechanics and relatively low operation and maintenance needs, would cost more up front, Shindala said. But the city could save up to $200,000 a year by cutting staffing needs from the present round-the-clock operation to a single daily shift operation.

The "oxidation ditch" system also would be more flexible in meeting crash loads and future environmental rules, Shindala said.

The city also needs to repair its central pumping station and outlying stations, he said.

In any case, if a change were approved today, it would be 2006 before it could be opened for use, officials said.

Administration officials did not offer cost comparisons in Monday's session, saying they wanted council to mull the merits of the available options first. Cost estimates will be provided at a later meeting, Mayor Larry Otis said.

Otis said there also might be other solutions but no money was set aside in previous administrations to handle repair and replacement of plant equipment.

"Under ideal conditions you would build up (cash) reserves," Otis said in response to a councilman's question of why equipment hadn't already been replaced. "There are no reserves."

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