Combining wastewater treatment plants with Tryon too expensive, says Columbus

Published 3:44 pm Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Columbus officials say consolidating the town&39;s wastewater treatment plant with those of Tryon and Saluda is too expensive, based on cost estimates. The town is now looking at options for upgrading its own plant.

Those upgrades, coupled with several other projects, could mean higher sewer rates for Columbus residents.

Columbus Town Council recently received estimates for options to upgrade its 40-year-old sewer plant as well as several other improvements, including upgrading the St. Luke&squo;s Hospital pump station, placing a new pump station at Tryon Estates and getting a new well online.

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Estimates for the options ranged from about $2.2 million to about $4.5 million with sewer rate increases required to pay back part of the project estimated between $3.39 and $6.88 per month.

The town is considering spplying for a N.C. United States Department of Agriculture-Rural Development (USDA-RD) grant and financing the remainder of the project. The deadline to apply for the USDA-RD grant gives the town some time to prepare. The first step would be to approve a resolution to apply for the grant.

Options include doing all the upgrades or only some. Town officials said the most important project is getting the wastewater treatment plant upgraded since the plant was built to last 20 years and is now almost 40 years old.

Columbus, Tryon and Saluda recently investigated the possibility of consolidating treatment plants for savings to all three towns. Cost estimates for Columbus were in the $6 million to $8 million range, however, and Columbus Town Manager Tim Holloman told council that staff doesn&squo;t think those figures are feasible for Columbus.

Holloman said the town could accomplish a lot of upgrades for the town with about $3 million and said he and staff will most likely recommend that the wastewater treatment plant and the hospital pump station be upgraded, and the town&squo;s fifth well be brought online.

The town has already drilled a fifth well on Hayes Road, but has not yet added it to the town&squo;s water system. Brian Tripp of W.K. Dickson & Co., Inc., community infrastructure consultants, presented the options to town council and said it will take between nine and 12 months to get the town&squo;s new well online. He also estimated that the cost for that process will be approximately $420,000, minus administration costs.

Upgrades to the town&squo;s wastewater treatment plant are estimated at approximately $2 million.

The upgrades the town is looking into are expected to enable the current plant to last anywhere from 20 to 50 years, Tripp said. Tripp also said the reason Columbus&squo; sewer plant has lasted almost 40 years is because its staff has taken good care of it.

The town plans to discuss the wastewater system upgrades more next month.