WEIRTON - Work on Phase I of Weirton's north end $6 million sewer upgrade will begin in a matter of days, Utilities Director A.D. "Butch" Mastrantoni said Wednesday.
Mastrantoni said James White Construction, contractor for Phase I, has been given notice to proceed with Phase I, which entails laying about 4,700 lineal feet of gravity sewer to route sanitary flow from roughly 1,000 structures along Pennsylvania Avenue and nearby neighborhoods up old Main Street to the Fifth Street Lift Station.
"It's a new gravity line which bypasses the mill. It catches the flow from those 1,000 structures before it gets to the mill and amalgamates with other things," he said.
The upgrades are being financed by rate hikes: Phase I took the rate to $3.61 per thousand gallons, a 66-cent increase. Phase II will take the rates to $4.19 per thousand gallons.
Mastrantoni said the upgrades are necessary to comply with a federal consent order to correct self-detected - and self-reported - problems with the sanitary flow into the Ohio River.
Crews from ArcelorMittal discovered abnormally high levels of fecal coliforms in what was supposed to be industrial processed water in 2010. Although fecal levels had always been monitored, it wasn't until the steelmaker began removing unneeded structures in the north end and their industrial runoff volumes diminished that they realized the numbers were out of the norm.
The city immediately reported the problem to environmental regulators.
"We've been lucky because we found it and reported it," Mastrantoni said. "I think the Department of Environmental Protection knows we weren't trying to hide it or being dilatory. We didn't get fined, but they came up with a consent order that defines the schedule" for correcting the problem, he said. "We had an earnest and rapid response to the issue. It's not like we swept it under the rug and didn't do anything. We've been on it since day one. And I think they can see we're paying a pretty high price, a significant price, to accomplish disinfection and chlorination off site."
Mastrantoni, in fact, said they've spent nearly $200,000 dollars over the past three years to treat the discharges off-site - $50,000 the first year, primarily for equipment, and about $65,000 last year. This year, he said they're on track to spend closer to $70,000.
"We've been treating it offsite at the ArcelorMittal facility," he said. "Once we get it back in the sewer lines, we can go back to doing what we do - treating it at the sewage plant. That's why Phase I is so important - so we can treat it in a cost-effective way at the plant."
He said it could take as long as three months to complete Phase I and another month or two for James White to complete associated restoration work.
Phase II, still in the design phase, will take the sanitary flow from the lift station through a new 16-inch main all the way to the Freedom Way treatment plant 26,000 lineal feet away - a little under six miles - "where it will get treated properly and then released into the Ohio River," Mastrantoni said. The upgraded line "makes it a direct route" to the plant, he said.
"Right now our forced main is 14-inch in diameter and ends downtown, it doesn't go clear to the plant," Mastrantoni said. "It dumps into the gravity manhole and flows to us under gravity. This will make for a more efficient delivery system to our plant."
But the DEP, Bureau of Public Health and West Virginia Public Service Commission all must sign off on the Phase II design before it can go to bid.
Mastrantoni, though, said the consent order gives them until December 2013 to complete the upgrade.
He said the Phase I work will bring them into compliance with the consent order, affording them "a little more time" to get the entire update done.