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Cold weather doesn't freeze plans for wastewater pond project

Marie Nitke/FOCUS Magney Construction workers have been out at the wastewater treatment plant since Nov. 26, cementing in anchor posts that will support a new above-ground aeration system, and making room for new, bigger blowers.

Progress is being made out at Perham's wastewater treatment plant.

Crews have been working since the end of November on a major overhaul that will, when complete, control the odor problem that has plagued the lagoons for the last few years.

The improvements are also intended to add loading capacity sufficient to serve the growing community for another 20 years.

The project is a big one for Perham, with a price tag of $5.9 million. Of that, $2.4 million is being covered by a federal grant from the Economic Development Administration.

It's also been a long time coming, as city leaders first started talking about it years ago.

The current facility is 26 years old; the equipment has aged beyond its 20-year life expectancy. The community has also outgrown it, loading the existing ponds to maximum capacity and sometimes exceeding daily permitted flows.

Storage capacity has been a major issue, especially during the winter. Irrigation cannot be run during freezing times of the year, so the ponds have to hold that extra effluent until spring. In the past, the city has had to begin irrigating earlier than what is allowed under its permit to alleviate buildup in the ponds.

This project will solve the city's problems by adding a new 20-acre aeration/holding pond to the west of the existing two aeration ponds and three holding ponds (the five existing ponds comprise a total of 46.3 acres). It will also remove sludge from the ponds and replace the aeration system.

The addition of the new pond will increase storage capacity by 83 million gallons per day.

"When it's done, it'll be like a whole new plant again," said Merle Meece, the city's public works director. "We're trying to make it ready for another 20 years."

The project is slated for completion by Oct. 31 of next year, but Meece said it's also a goal to have one of the ponds completely updated by spring to prevent any excessive odor as the weather warms.

Already, a crew has been busy.

Five workers with Magney Construction have been at the site every day in recent weeks. Del Pundsack, superintendent of the project, said they've been working inside the plant's building, demolishing areas of concrete to make room for new, bigger blowers.

They've also done some work on the irrigation system, and have been cementing in anchor posts, which will eventually hold the new above-ground aeration system.

After the New Year, crews will start draining the ponds one by one, and by spring they'll be starting "the major dirt work for the new pond," Pundsack said.

Other than the piping for the new aeration system, none of the improvements will be noticeable to the public, Meece said, and the construction process should not cause any disruptions.