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Council OKs $22M for new treatment plant
Project referred to as largest big-ticket purchase ever for RH
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Bainbridge-based Bates Engineers/Contractors Inc. will build Richmond Hill’s new Sterling Creek wastewater treatment plant following Tuesday night’s vote by the City council to approve the company’s $22.4 million bid.

Though Bates’ bid was the lowest of three by about $2 million, the project is easily the single largest big-ticket item in the city’s history, according to city officials.

“Congratulations,” Mayor Harold Fowler told council members. “We have just spent ourselves deeper into debt than the city has ever been.”

The new membrane bioreactor (MBR) facility, which treats wastewater using a combination of filters and biological processes, will initially be permitted to treat some 3 million gallons per day — that’s double the city’s current permit.

And though the council vote was unanimous, council member Johnny Murphy questioned whether there were assurances this plant could be expanded.

“The last one was designed to be doubled (in capacity),” Murphy noted. “And I believe the answer to that was somebody made a mistake, and that mistake turns into $22 million.”

City Manger Chris Lovell said there was no mistake with the initial plan.

“What happened was that (the state Environmental Protection Division) changed the rules,” he said. “That’s pretty much the reason we’re having to build the plant we’re building today.”

The city’s current facility was built in 1996 and cost $6 million to build. It uses a system of manmade wetlands and lagoons to filter effluent and was praised for its preservation of natural resources.

But it has had trouble keeping up with increasing demand as the city’s population boomed.

The facility also has had trouble meeting tougher environmental standards, and Richmond Hill has been under EPD scrutiny since 2007, when the agency fined the city $10,000 for failing to properly dispose of sewage or treat pollutants.

A similar fine of $35,000 was levied against the city by the EPD in 2009 for permit violations, according to the EPD website; a third fine of $26,000 was assessed in 2010; and eventually the city was forced to design the new plant, which will be financed by Georgia Environmental Finance Authority loans.

Lovell told the council the new MBR plant is similar to one built 10-years ago in Pooler, which is currently being expanded.

“Their expansion is seamless and they’re still adhering to EPD standards,” Lovell said.

Other bidders for the new plant were North Carolina-based Crowder Construction Company at $23.32 million and Florida company Wharton-Smith Inc. at $24.55 million

All three bids were less than expected, Fowler said.

“We had been told this was probably going to cost between $25-28 million,” he said. “So I think we’re getting a bargain.”

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