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Federal, state standards force city to eye wastewater plant





Regulations designed to protect mussels is one reason the city of Hays is facing a $24 million to $28 million project to update its wastewater treatment facility.

The level of ammonia, nitrates and phosphates in the plant's discharge affects wildlife, said Jeffrey D. Barnard, project manager for Burns & McDonnell. The Hays City Commission used its work session Thursday to listen to the engineer's presentation explaining the need for a more advanced plant.

The proposed design would give the plant "more utility," Barnard said. The difference between the existing structure and the vision could be compared in terms of vehicles.

"An '86 Chevy Malibu would probably be accurate ... and then what we're proposing is probably at a 2012 four-wheel-drive Chevy extended cab pickup truck with a lift kit," he said.

Stricter federal and state regulations set to take effect in 2018 have forced city staff to improve the facility.

Built in the 1950s, the aging plant is unable to meet the future standards. City staff conducted a failed experiment with the facility's processes to reach the limits, and the federal government fined the city $18,000 in April for excessive ammonia.

Toby Dougherty, Hays city manager, said the plant is operating as designed, but it cannot adapt to modern standards. City leaders have to "play the trust card" with the public to assure them the multi-million dollar project is warranted, he said.

John T. Bird, Hays city attorney, said resisting the mandates could lead to expensive litigation.

Barnard said the upgrades provide better safety, reliability and efficiency. The plan can be designed to anticipate future changes and allow the capability for additions. The biological treatment process, clarifiers and filters will be new.

Dougherty said the work would replace approximately 90 percent of the facility.

If approved, design and construction is scheduled to begin in 2015.