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Richmond Hill signs off on wastewater treatment loan
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The city of Richmond Hill put the final touch Monday on the $23.5 million loan it is receiving to build the new Sterling Creek wastewater treatment facility.

At a called meeting, Richmond Hill City Council approved a resolution to carry out its loan agreement with the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority for the state-mandated treatment plant.

The city received a $10.5 million loan from GEFA last month, on top of two prior loans totaling $13 million. The $23.5 million was split into three separate loans because $10.5 million is the maximum GEFA can give a city in one year, City Manager Chris Lovell explained.

Richmond Hill will pay 1.03 percent interest on the 20-year loan. GEFA provides communities throughout Georgia with low-interest loans to fund wastewater infrastructure and water pollution-reduction projects.

“It’s not a bad deal,” Lovell said. “There’s also a million-dollar debt forgiveness on it. So once we get it fully funded, a million dollars will go away.”

The wastewater treatment plant is on target to be completed in October, according to Lovell.

The membrane bioreactor wastewater treatment plant is the largest single expenditure in Richmond Hill’s history, according to city officials. It will double 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.

“It’s pretty impressive,” Lovell said.

The new plant is being paid for by hikes in water and sewer rates 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 have 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 because of repeated violations.

“The plant had to be built. EPD made us build it,” Lovell said. “Ideally, we wouldn’t have done it, but in order to keep our water permit, we had to.”

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