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Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018 12:08 am

What lies beneath…is expensive

City faces tab to fix sewers

 While the city struggles to close an $11.5 million budget gap, Springfield may soon have a sewer-repair bill to consider.

A study of aging sewers in the downtown area should be complete this week, said Gregg Humphrey, executive director of the Sangamon County Water Reclamation District. Based on that study, the city will be expected to make repairs to reduce the amount of stormwater that enters pipes during heavy rain and causes flooding and sewage backups in basements.

“We’re basically going to say, infiltration has to be reduced on the system to reduce (overflows),” Humphrey said. “This is just going to put something else on their plate.”

The water reclamation district plans to spend $5 million a year over the next 16 years, a total of $80 million, on repairs outside downtown Springfield to reduce overflows, Humphrey said. Beyond that, the city’s tab likely will be substantial, given that downtown sewers that collect both stormwater and sewage instead of separating the two are routinely overwhelmed during heavy rains.

The city is responsible for the sewage collection system within city limits while the water reclamation district is responsible for water treatment and outfalls that occasionally pour untreated water into the Sangamon River during heavy rains. In its quest to reduce the amount of untreated wastewater that flows into the river, the district is seeking ways to reduce volumes.

“That’s why we’re looking at this,” Humphrey said. “Basically, we’ve identified a lot of areas that have defects in the sewer system. There are quite a few areas in downtown Springfield, they’re very old sewers, and they’re brick sewers. Some are in structural disrepair. It’s going to need some work.”

The study due for release this week is based largely on underground camera surveys of pipes ranging from 24 to 36 inches in diameter. The sewer district also used sonar to evaluate the condition of an underground system that includes the city’s oldest pipes. The city knows there are issues.

As part of plans to redevelop the oversized city block adjacent to the governor’s mansion, the city is contemplating ways to reduce flooding and backups that occur when the Town Branch line, which lies beneath part of the site, reaches capacity. The expected tab to improve the line, one of the largest and oldest in the city, is $2.5 million. Mayor Jim Langfelder says he’s open to using tax increment financing money to pay part of the cost. Video gaming revenue and existing infrastructure repair funds are also possibilities, he said.

Langfelder said he’s also open to a merger that would put the city’s collection system under jurisdiction of the water reclamation district, an idea that’s been floated, but not seriously pursued, for years. “I think you have to take a look at that,” the mayor said. “Let’s do what’s right for the ratepayers.”

The city now has a 10-year capital plan for sewers that includes $50 million from existing revenue.  “That’s really just the starting point,” said public works director Mark Mahoney. There are issues beyond downtown, he noted. The state Environmental Protection Agency, he said, is considering a $40 million city plan to upgrade the sewer system in northeast Springfield, where backups and flooding have been problems. That money would be spent over 20 years, he said.

In downtown, Humphrey said pipes will need to be relined with a resin material to hold back water that now seeps into the system. Sump pumps and downspouts that convey storm water into the sewer system also need to be addressed, he said.

The city, Humphrey said, likely would come under pressure by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency if it resists making repairs to the downtown system.

“They’re going to have to work with us,” Humphrey said. “They’re a contributor to our system.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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