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Utilities commission: Time to look at rate hikes

SALEM

The city Utilities Commission heard about proposed work to make necessary upgrades to the water treatment plant that could cost $9 to $15 million, prompting another mention of the need to increase rates.

“Rates aren’t going down anywhere around us,” Commission Chairman Bob Hodgson said.

Since 2012, the utilities department has spent over $12.7 million on capital projects, including the completion of Phases 1 and 1A of upgrades to the sewage treatment plant and some spending on two additional phases at the plant on Pennsylvania Avenue which aren’t complete.

The Phase 2 project is ongoing and carries a price tag of nearly $6 million, with more than $2 million spent to date. Phase 3 is in the works and is estimated to cost $8 to $9 million, with engineers from Burgess & Niple scheduled to present their proposed scope of work for the project during a work session set for 3 p.m. March 12.

Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart said Tuesday that he supported starting to approach city council about looking at the wastewater or sewer rates, which council controls based on the recommendation of the utilities department.

The commission has also talked briefly about increasing water rates again, after receiving a report in the fall calling for rates to increase to keep up with the improvements needed to keep up with Ohio Environmental Protection Agency requirements.

Hodgson said they’ll need to start working on the rates this spring, in April, May or June, in order to have new rates take effect by January 2021.

During a work session prior to the regular meeting held earlier this week, the commission heard about a proposed scope of work by Alfred Benesch & Company of Salem for the upgrades to the water treatment plant located on Gamble Road.

James Rhoads of Alfred Benesch said their plan is divided into phases, first to address updates to controls and electrical and improvements at the plant, then looking at the distribution system and then looking at removal of organics or algae issues from the system. Another phase will look at a looping system for water movement and trying to eliminate deadends in the distribution system that contribute to water age.

Hodgson said the commission needed time to look at the current proposal. Rhoads said the company needs some additional information also to get a better picture of what’s needed.

Prior to their presentation, Chas Antinone Jr., president and CEO of Green Water Solutions, talked to the commission about how his company uses nano bubble technology to inject ozone into bodies of water to clean up the algae, noting the technology is effective and not harmful to humans or wildlife.

He called the effect quite remarkable, showing before and after pictures from the work they did at Lake Newport in Mill Creek Park.

Hodgson asked if they could come back after checking out the Salem reservoir and the Spring Lake reservoir, both owned by the city, to better determine what would be needed. Personnel from Alfred Benesch & Company also attended the presentation. Hodgson said this could have an affect on what Benesch is planning for the water treatment plant.

When asked for his thoughts about the nano bubble technology presentation, Weingart said he was impressed. Plant manager Larry Sebrell said he didn’t want to be experimenting until the OEPA gave their blessing.

The process oxygenates the water, causing aquatic life to really thrive, Hodgson said.

The next regular meeting of the commission is set for 4 p.m. March 12, preceded by a work session at 3 p.m.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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