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City OKs $10 million loan application for new plant
Last of three to help fund wastewater treatment facilty

Richmond Hill City Council approved a $10.5 million loan application Tuesday night to pay for the last phase of construction on the new Sterling Creek wastewater-treatment facility.

The loan will be through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, or GEFA, which already has loaned Richmond Hill $13 million to build the new state-mandated facility. This would bring the total the city expects to spend on construction to about $23.5 million.

Officials have estimated the new plant will cost between $22 million and $24 million.

The vote came at Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting at City Hall after a brief presentation by city Finance Director Bob Whitmarsh, who said the city still has about $5 million remaining from the previous GEFA loan in the bank.

He said it appears the facility still is on target for completion in October.

“We’ve got about six months left to go and … things are moving really, really quickly now to finish this project up,” Whitmarsh told council, noting that the loan leaves money in place for contingencies as work continues.

The membrane bioreactor wastewater treatment plant, which doubles the city’s capacity to treat wastewater from 1.5 million gallons per day to 3 million and can be expanded to 4 million gallons per day, is the largest single expenditure in the city’s history, according to officials.

It’s being paid for by hikes in water and sewer rates, which were approved by council members in November. Those added $8 a month to the base rate while also billing heavy water users more and increasing connection fees. The first increase took effect in January, and the city will add another increase in 2016.

Without the increases, the city would face a $25 million shortfall in its budget by 2025, officials said.

The city’s current wastewater treatment plant was honored by the Georgia Municipal Association in 2007, but by 2008 the city had to settle with the state Environmental Protection Division and sign a consent order to keep it operating due to repeated violations.

Growth is at least partly to blame for the need for the new wastewater-treatment facility, but the city also cites stricter state regulations.

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