City wastewater treatment plant work to get going

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The Socorro City Council approved an agreement with Dennis Engineering to evaluate the city’s wastewater treatment plant during its regular meeting March 4.

Mayor Ravi Bhasker said the plant was damaged about two years ago during a cold spell. As the city has been working on that, they have also been trying to upgrade supervision at the plant. He said the city wants to bring on a consultant to evaluate operations, maintenance and staffing at the plant. The plant is about 19 years old, he said, and probably needs an upgrade, but the city is trying to “Band-Aid it” right now.

City water superintendent Lloyd Martinez said the contract with Dennis Engineering is hourly and not to exceed $62,000. Bhasker noted that is about one and a half salaries.

“At this point, I just think we’re right on the edge of making sure that our plant will go on for another 20 years,” Bhasker said. “And I think it will save us money to start getting information ahead of time before we really start having problems with violations and penalties.”

Councilor Michael Olguin said he thinks contracting with the consultant is a good idea.

Councilor Donald Monette asked if the $62,000 will come out of this fiscal year’s budget or next.

City finance director Mable Gonzales said a portion of it will come from this fiscal year’s budget, and the remainder from next year’s. She said payment for the consultant will come out of the wastewater department budget. She said she would like to handle it the same way the city handled the landfill department, paying out of the department’s operating expenses.

Gonzales said the city has a revolving loan fund for the wastewater treatment plant, which is set up to handle major repair and replacement expenses. She said she can transfer money from that fund if needed.

Olguin asked about the standard hourly rate for the engineers. Gonzales said one engineer is $125 per hour and the other is $150 per hour.

“So the $62,000 could last a long time, depending on how much we need them,” Olguin said.

Martinez agreed, adding city staff will have a lot of things ready for the engineers when they start their evaluation. He said technical manuals are being written up, so the engineers will have most of the materials they need ready for them when they arrive.

“The more we can do, the less it’s going to cost,” Martinez said. “But in the long run, them being there is going to help out the wastewater plant tremendously.”

Martinez said Dennis Engineering will submit reports to the mayor on the employees, equipment and what direction to take in the long term.

“I think we need to get started on it just to see where they go,” Bhasker said.

Bhasker said it may get a lot more involved; the city’s need at the wastewater plant is just showing its face right now.

Salome said it is important the city understand what’s happening at the plant and avoid having Environmental Protection Agency penalties.

“What you don’t want to do is have some reports fall through the cracks and start getting fined by the EPA,” city Clerk Pat Salome said. “Because those numbers can get bigger than any engineering numbers we can imagine.”

Bhasker said the city still has about $800,000 to pay on a loan it took to build the plant. Gonzales said the city pays $146,000 per year on the loan.

“Hopefully it was a 25-year plant, but things change,” Bhasker said.

Bhasker added the plant is functioning for the city’s purposes right now.