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AUBURN

Estimated Auburn biosolid project costs increasing

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ACC 1-13-22

Director of Municipal Utilities Seth Jensen speaks during an Auburn City Council meeting Thursday night.

AUBURN — Estimated costs for Auburn's biosolids project have gone up.

At its meeting Thursday night, the Auburn City Council received an update on the biosolids dryer project, which was accepted as a part of a capital improvement project in February 2020. Director of Municipal Utilities Seth Jensen and Eric Muir, senior director with the firm Brown and Caldwell told the council the estimated cost of the project has increased.

A resolution is set to go in front of council at next week's meeting, Jensen said, to approve a change order for Brown and Caldwell's engineering contract so the firm will provide 100% of the project's design, with a cost of approximately $977,000. The firm is currently contracted for 90% of the project's design.

Council approved bonding for $36 million in 2021 to cover the costs of reconstruction and improvements to the treatment plant and the sewer system, including creating a new biosolids dryer and sludge handling facility.

Jensen said during Thursday's meeting the final cost of the project is currently estimated at around $58 million and the cost impacts have risen 25% from when the project's cost was being scoped out about a year ago, with factors such as inflation and supply chain issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The most recent major capital improvement project for the Auburn Wastewater Treatment Plant was in 1995, Jensen said, adding various parts of the facility have been replaced or need to be replaced. The presentation on the update, available on the city's website, noted "Biosolids disposal cost are projected to increase substantially over the long term as disposal options diminish." The presentation also added that the landfill closed in 2020.

Muir said the project is set to include improvements, rehabilitations and additions such as electrical entrance gear, primary tank scum troughs, dry product storage and sludge thickening, stabilization and drying. Jensen said it is expected to have the project go out to bid in August noting the construction is set to take two years.

Councilor Jimmy Giannettino acknowledged the increased "price tag" for the project but said he supports it.

"Here we have a shovel-ready project addressing environmental issues that we know are coming down the pipe," he said.

The council had bonded for $2 million for the project's design about two years ago, Jensen said after the meeting. He also said he anticipates "we'll need to move forward with additional bond authorization," to cover remaining costs, which are expected to be put in front of the council at some point. Jensen also said the city applied for a $20 million zero percent financing loan with the state and a $9 million grant, meant to help offset that estimated $58 million price. He also said he believes other opportunities will be available in the future to help offset the cost.

Jensen also talked about the possible consequences of not moving forward with the project and if the treatment plant were to continue to decline, the plant could have equipment failures and potentially not be able to meet Department of Environmental Conservation regulations.

Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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Education and City Reporter

Hello, my name is Kelly Rocheleau, and I cover the education and city beats for The Citizen and auburnpub.com. I've been writing for the paper since December 2016.

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