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Failing facilities to blame for fine, city officials say





The $18,000 federal fine confronting the city of Hays for violations at the wastewater treatment plant is a symptom of a possible $20 to $35 million problem.

The Hays City Commission's work session Thursday addressed the potential for having to replace the facility. The aging plant and the prospect of stricter federal regulations led to failed experiments intended to lower levels of nitrates, ammonia, and phosphates in the plant's discharge. Elevated levels of ammonia were put into Chetola Creek.

"It was built in the '50s and '60s, last upgraded in the '90s," said Toby Dougherty, Hays city manager. "It worked very well for what it was designed for, but it really doesn't work for what we're trying to do with it today. It's not so much what we want out of it, it's what the federal government and (Kansas Department of Health and Environment) is telling us what we have to put out of it."

Dougherty said the fine had "significant implications" for the future. KDHE has resisted adopting the EPA's regulations, but the changes are expected.

"Right now, the indications we're getting from KDHE are they are getting ready to cave to the pressure under EPA," Dougherty said. "Our next permit's going to be the new standards, and we're going to have a short time after that to meet it. So, we could be looking at a pretty significant expenditure out there coming up very quickly."

Bernie Kitten, city utilties director, said the plant's permit expires soon, and city staff already has started looking at options to prepare for the higher standards. Building a new plant would take three years.

Commissioner Shaun Musil said he believed the fine is "bogus."

* I.D. Creech, Hays director of public works, presented a proposed plan to renovate Hays Regional Airport to accommodate the new 50-passenger jet service through SkyWest Airlines. The list of upgrades includes moving and expanding the passenger holding area, making restrooms comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and fixing the roof's leaks.

The Federal Aviation Administration will pay up to 90 percent of the costs for 66 percent of the project. Although bids have not been received, it is projected the city's share of the $1.1 million project will be $445,496.

* The commissioners discussed a proposed contract to hire a consultant to review and offer ideas about rewriting the city's 1970s-era zoning regulations. The agreement would cost up to $150,000 and last 14 months.

* Three separate cases of vehicle abatements will be on the docket next week. The vehicles are located at 510 W. 23rd, 1309 Donald Drive and 1812 E. 27th.

* Vice Mayor Henry Schwaller IV said he asked the commission to discuss a sidewalk snow removal ordinance because a resident asked him to raise the issue. It was a city ordinance until 2005, when it was repealed.

After concerns were raised about how it would be enforced, commissioners declined to consider the measure at its meeting next week.