EPA gives Chrisman warning

Chrisman on short lead after failed tests, multi-million dollar project may be in future

By GARY HENRY ghenry@prairiepress.net
Posted 2/22/21

CHRISMAN — The City of Chrisman appears to be on thin ice with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

A recent letter from the EPA was the main topic of conversation at the …

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EPA gives Chrisman warning

Chrisman on short lead after failed tests, multi-million dollar project may be in future


CHRISMAN — The City of Chrisman appears to be on thin ice with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

A recent letter from the EPA was the main topic of conversation at the Tuesday, Feb. 16, city council meeting. The letter stated Chrisman’s sewage treatment plant failed in every testing category and gave the city 30 days to provide a plan for finally addressing the long-standing noncompliance.

Both Mayor Dan Owen and Matt Johnson of Fehr-Grahm Engineering & Environmental, the city’s engineering firm, stressed the problem can no longer be ignored.

“This is a problem that has been recognized by the circuit court for 10 years,” said Johnson.

He added the city was placed under a consent order by the court to bring the sewage treatment plant into compliance and the deadline for doing so passed without any resolution. A failure to act now carries the risk of devastating consequences to the city.

“Anytime, the EPA can retroactively go back and assess the daily fine, which they haven’t charged so far,” said Johnson. “That amount can easily total into the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars.”

Owen echoed the sense of urgency.

“The state has been patient, but we need to act,” said Owen. “The decision we make for the city is not just for today but for 40 or 50 years into the future.”

Chrisman finished an improvement at the sewage treatment plant in 2020 that was designed to handle the excess water flowing into the plant following heavy rains. The excess flow overwhelmed the plant and pushed sewage through the system without adequate treatment time.

Getting the excess flow resolved was an EPA order and Johnson called that project Phase 1 of an overall improvement effort.

Johnson described the sewage treatment plant as not working, especially the trickling filter. He said parts are on order to get the trickling filter back into service, but that action alone is not enough to bring the facility into EPA compliance.

He presented the council with four options.

Alternative 1 involves the increased use of chemicals to treat the waste and then more chemical additions to neutralize the first round of chemicals. Johnson said this plan will work with the existing structure of the plant, but the cost for the extra chemicals will increase operating expense by at least $110,000 annually. He said that might be sustainable in the short-term but is not practical as a permanent solution.

Alternative 2 is improving the existing trickling filter and rehabilitating the exhausted sand filters.

Johnson noted the media in the sand filters is well beyond its useful life and replacing it is a six-figure cost just to buy the special sand and disposing the old media in a hazardous

material site is another expense.

Johnson said sand filters work but they are too costly for efficiency as the media must be replaced every six years at great expense.

Alternatives 3 and 4 had the same basic plan of moving away from a trickling filter in favor of a bio-reactor and repurposing existing equipment for new purpose and installing some new technology. Alternative 4 includes a new building to house some of these changes, plus making needed improvements to the Washington Street lift station.

Johnson said the changes in Alternative 3 or 4 can be done at the current location by demolishing the sand filters.

“All four of these technologies will meet our goal,” said Johnson. “What you need to look at are today’s cost to build it and operate it for 20 years, which is the life for municipal equipment.”

He ruled out the chemical approach and rehabilitated sand filters as too costly in the long run as efficient solutions.

Finding a bottom line is the issue for these kinds of projects.

Johnson said the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development program has issued a letter of condition for improving the Chrisman sewage treatment plant with an estimate exceeding $7 million. Rural Development will provide a $2 million grant for the work and the balance is a USDA loan at a little more than 1% for 38 years.

According to Johnson, paying back the loan requires increasing the sewer bill from $26 to $51 per month. He added the increase can be phased in over time to make it easier on residents.

“The rate not only repays the loan, but it also sets aside a reserve fund to replace parts that break over the next 38 years. At the end of the loan, the city should have enough to refurbish the plant again without having to face such a major expense.”

The nearly doubling of the monthly bill caused concern.

Commissioner Cory Chaney said that will be a jolt to the city’s elderly population living on a fixed income.

“Whether it is a new rate or phased in, it will still be hard,” said Chaney.

Owen said he does not like the idea of raising rates, but it is sometimes necessary. Using hindsight, he said if the city regularly raised rates by small increments in the past, it might not be facing the need to borrow so much.

The mayor added this is also a matter of financial perspective.

“People pay $100 a month for a cell phone and $200 a month for cable TV for things that are not a necessity,” said Owen. “Sewage treatment is a necessity.”

Owen told the commissioners it was too much information to absorb in one night. He asked them to review Johnson’s handouts and call the engineer with questions, but he wants them prepared to make a decision at the March 1 meeting.

Johnson reiterated the time has come for a decision.

“Your plant is not working,” said Johnson.