City seeks fix for sewer problems

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Portales city councilors took a series of actions at Tuesday’s regular meeting they hope will provide residents with short-term relief from odors coming from the city’s waste water treatment plant.

After hearing a presentation from Dan Boivin of Smith Engineering, councilors directed City Manager Debi Lee to begin the process of implementing the recommendations for a new wastewater treatment plant and short-term fixes for the existing plant immediately.

Those measures, which would involve rerouting the flow patterns at the plant to provide more aeration, could cost as much as $220,000, according to Boivin. Officials believe the work could take four to six weeks to complete.

Lee told councilors the reserves in the utility fund were sufficient to finance the short-term work. She also said the city had been OK’d for a $16 million revolving loan from the New Mexico Environment Department and could also be eligible for bridge funds if necessary to finance construction of a new plant. Boivin’s estimate for a new plant is $15 to $16 million.

Lee said the city is working hard at developing a solution.

“We are not sitting on our hands and we’ve not been waiting for someone to tell us it smelled bad,” Lee said.

Councilor Mike Miller said he wanted to know how quickly staff could start the improvements.

“I don’t know if my hiney can take any more chewing,” Miller said.

Lee said she would send a letter to Boivin to begin the design work on the short-term fix immediately. The finance committee should meet on using the reserves early next week, according to Lee, and a special meeting of the council to declare the project an emergency and vote on it could be called later that week.

Declaring an emergency would pave the way to using reserve funds and allow the council to forego the time-consuming process of advertising for competitive bids for the work.

In other action related to the wastewater treatment plant, the council approved the first permit under tougher industrial discharge regulations enacted late last year.

In their application, Abengoa Bioenergy noted that it had brought its plant into line on several of the measures outlined in the new ordinance but requested until July 31 to come into full compliance.

While councilors approved Abengoa’s permit, several said they didn’t want to allow the ethanol producer more time to come into compliance. In particular Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr. was vocal on that point.

“The city has been very good in working with Abengoa on this problem,” Ortega said. “I feel that this council and the citizens have suffered long enough.”

Ortega advocated the city apply the appropriate penalties outlined in the ordinance if Abengoa is unable to meet the conditions of the permit.

Public Works Director Tom Howell said his department is currently testing other industries for compliance. He said he’s not certain whether or not any other business would even meet the conditions to trigger a permit.