After 10 years and three state environmental compliance orders, Kenner will soon enter the final stage of an $80 million overhaul of its sewer system.
The city is preparing to apply for a $15 million low-interest loan from the state Department of Environmental Quality to replace one of its major force mains, demolish two decommissioned wastewater treatment plants and build a warehouse for the emergency generators that run the system during power outages.
Chief Administrative Officer Mike Quigley said that work, along with a $16 million upgrade of the city’s consolidated treatment plant funded by an earlier loan, should wrap up by late 2016.
“We think that once we complete all of this, we’ll have a very viable, functioning system that will be in compliance,” he said.
Finance Director Duke McConnell said the city will pay off two previous loans dating from the 1990s in the next year and should have no problem assuming the debt service on the new loan.
Kenner’s sewer system overhaul dates back to 2004, when the city was cited by DEQ after inspections documented hundreds of overflows throughout the system. Soil subsidence and lack of adequate maintenance had damaged the system to the point where heavy rains overwhelmed its pipes, and sewage would flow out of manholes into the streets or back up in the toilets and drains of homes and businesses.
Subsequent compliance orders followed over the years as the city chipped away at the list of needed repairs, starting out at the front end of the system to try to take care of the backups that were plaguing businesses and residents, Quigley said, noting that 444 overflows were documented by the state.
All told, the city used the state’s low-interest loan program three times — for $22 million, $16 million and $21 million — along with $5 million in Louisiana Recovery Authority block grants and about $2 million from the city’s capital projects budget.
Kenner’s sewer system is fed by lines that depend on gravity to move waste to any one of several lift stations, which are at the low point of the system. From there, force mains use pressure to move everything to the consolidated treatment plant on Veterans Boulevard at the West Return Levee near the St. Charles Parish line, where the waste is treated and discharged into the Mississippi River.
In addition to fixing hundreds of feet of sewer lines, Kenner has overhauled 19 of the lift stations and is building three more.
The state’s compliance orders came with the threat of fining Kenner as much as $50,000 per day, but Quigley said the city has always made it a point to demonstrate it was taking the problem seriously.
“We recognized the problem, went about finding financing and revenue to address the situation, hired consultants and engineers who understand sewer projects. We even went about looking for additional revenue,” he said.
“We thought so much of the issue that we dedicated all of our LRA money to our sewer system,” he added.
The $15 million loan Kenner will soon apply for would help rid the city of the two decommissioned treatment plants, which are located by a canal behind the Chateau Estates golf course and in the Department of Public Works yard off Williams Boulevard near 21st Street.
The one at Chateau Estates cannot come down soon enough, according to Councilwoman Maria DeFrancesch.
DeFrancesch told the council recently that no matter how many times the city repaired the fence around the plant, vandals would always tear it open to gain entry. One day, a boy shut his little sister in the building after he grew tired of her following him; fortunately, she was freed a short time later after a woman walking on the levee heard her cries.
Quigley said the city has bolstered its fleet of portable generators to 44, and the new warehouse at the DPW yard will keep them out of the weather. Even though much of the city was without power for four days after Hurricane Isaac, he said, officials were able to keep the sewer system working because of the generators.
“To bring people home (after a hurricane), you’ve got to have electricity, you’ve got to have water and you’ve got to have a sewer system,” he said.
Quigley said the city does not anticipate any problems getting the loan approved by the state, and that the work it funds will put an end to the city’s sewerage overhaul saga.
“We feel like at the end of the day, when this is completed, we’ll get out from underneath these compliance orders,” he said.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.