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Wastewater treatment project on schedule

A recent aerial photo of the site shows progress on the 20 structures that make up Willmar's new wastewater treatment plant. (Submitted photo)

Officials say construction is on schedule and on budget for Willmar's new $86.2 million wastewater treatment plant and conveyance system.

With the exception of recent heavy rain that slowed work, progress has been good, said Aaron Nelson, field engineer for Graham Construction Services of Eagan, the project's general contractor.

"We've been fortunate to have a dry summer, a dry spring,'' Nelson said. "We have a pretty good team of subcontractors working with us.''

Mike Gerbitz, water and wastewater engineer for Donohue and Associates of Sheboygan, Wis., the city's engineering consultant, said the project is on schedule and, if anything, a little ahead of schedule.

"Things are proceeding along nicely from the schedule standpoint,'' Gerbitz said.

History, funding

The project is being funded by a mix of government loans and grants and city wastewater treatment plant reserves. So far, the city has received $3,588,014 in grants, and the city and Donohue are working with congressional representatives to receive a $15 million federal grant that's been approved by Congress but not appropriated.

Loans will be repaid by rates. Since 2000, the City Council has been raising user rates by 6.35 percent a year to avoid what one official referred to as "sticker shock'' from one large rate increase.

Planning for the project began after the City Council passed a resolution in September 2004 to move the treatment plant and improve the wastewater conveyance system.

Site work began Sept. 29, 2008. A groundbreaking ceremony was held one month later on Oct. 28, and the first concrete was poured on Nov. 20. The contract date for completion to receive municipal and industrial waste is Oct. 7, 2010.

The old plant, sitting just south of Willmar Avenue Southeast and east of the Kandi Mall, was once located outside the city limits when it was built 70 years ago. However, residential and commercial growth gradually overtook the site.

The old plant's outdated and failed treatment technology does not comply with state wastewater regulatory requirements. Also, the treatment process at the old plant mixes industrial waste from Jennie-O Turkey Store and the municipal waste, which results in an objectionable odor.

Homeowners and business people living near the old plant have for years strongly recommended the City Council move the plant out of town.

Improved new facility

The new plant is located in the country, 5.8 miles west of the city limits and next to the city's sludge transfer and storage facility. The plant will have new and expanded treatment capabilities, and is designed to comply with more stringent wastewater quality standards for phosphorus and ammonia removal.

In addition, the plant will emit very little if any odor because the industrial waste and municipal waste will be transported to the plant separately and will be treated separately, said Gerbitz. Separate treatment offers a number of advantages, he said, including odor avoidance.

"When they mix, the biology that comes out of our bodies kind of inoculates the industrial waste and can make it smell. By keeping them separate, that doesn't happen,'' he said.

Municipal waste will be carried in a separate large-diameter pipeline called an interceptor. Waste will flow by gravity from a connection point at the site of the old treatment plant site to the new plant. Structures no longer necessary at the old plant will be abandoned or demolished.

The interceptor route heads south from the old plant to 28th Avenue, then heads west under First Street South and along 28th Avenue Southwest/30th Avenue Southwest to the new plant. First Street traffic is not being disrupted because a boring process is being used to tunnel under the street to install the pipeline.

Industrial waste from the Jennie-O Turkey Store plants on Benson Avenue Southwest and Willmar Avenue Southwest will be pumped to the new plant in a forcemain pipe. The forcemain route generally follows a southwesterly corridor from the Benson Avenue plant through Willmar and then west along 30th Avenue Southwest to the plant.

The water remaining from the treatment process will be treated with ultraviolet light for 100 percent removal of bacteria before being discharged into Hawk Creek. The sludge will be injected into farm fields.


Colleen Thompson, wastewater plant superintendent, said her staff will receive training in operating the new plant.

"We're looking forward to it,'' she said. "We have 11 people now and we intend to have 11 at the new plant.''

Rhonda Rae, Donohue program manager, said the project is 45 percent complete. She said structures will be enclosed to allow interior work to proceed during the winter.

Graham has more than 50 subcontractors and vendors performing work or supplying material to the site. To date there have been as many as 100 construction workers on site on a given day and about 200 total different personnel through the project thus far.

The overall project was broken down into a number of smaller contracts, based on what type of contractor was best suited for that particular work such as construction of underground pipeline, lift stations and the plant, said Gerbitz.

"That way we got the right mix of contractors as prime contractors, and it makes the projects manageable for the different contractors to meet the schedule requirements that they are all facing,'' said Gerbitz.

Members of the Willmar City Council's Public Works/Safety Committee and some citizens toured the plant construction site Tuesday afternoon. Committee Chairman Doug Reese said the size of the project is impressive.

"When I look at one of the last times that we were out here as a committee and looking at big holes and how this has changed and how quickly it has all come up, it's very impressive,'' said Reese. "You see can it's going to be a facility that's going to serve the city for many, many years to come.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150