City Water Treatment (copy)

Members of City Council tour the city’s treatment plant, which needs to be upgraded or replaced.

Fredericksburg’s City Council has taken another step toward greenlighting the most expensive capital project in the city’s history—and an effort to get some state funding for it.

The city and Spotsylvania County are facing the prospect of pouring millions into replacing their old wastewater treatment plants, and have been negotiating consolidation at the county’s newer and larger Massaponax plant instead. Both localities’ staffs and their consultants agree it would be the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly plan.

Council members, some of whom toured the city plant last April, voted 6–0 Tuesday to continue the planning process. (Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw was absent.) The entire project, which will include closing the old plant, is estimated to cost the city almost $65.7 million. That’s nearly three times the $23.8 million it paid for the new courthouse building on Princess Anne Street.

The vote also directed city staff to pursue a Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund grant to help defray costs. The fund can be used to help localities finance nutrient-reduction strategies for the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

“It’s too early to tell how much the city might receive,” said Assistant City Manager Doug Fawcett. “We’re certainly going to build the best case that we can for significant investment from the state through the fund.”

The Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors will consider adopting a similar resolution at its Feb. 25 meeting, and a draft of the consolidation plan could be ready in late February or early March.

Fredericksburg treats some of its wastewater at a city-owned plant off Beulah Salisbury Road behind Dixon Park. It dates back to the mid-1950s, and has been upgraded twice, most recently in 2009–10. The facility, which can treat up to 4.5 million gallons of wastewater per day, needs to either be closed or upgraded in the next five to 10 years.

The city also diverts about 1 million gallons per day to Spotsylvania’s FMC plant, which was built in the 1930s just downriver from the city’s plant. It can treat up to 4 million gallons per day from both the city and the county, and also needs to be either upgraded or closed. Fawcett said Spotsylvania has decided against an upgrade.

The Massaponax plant was constructed before 1980 and upgraded in 2001. It has a capacity of 9.4 million gallons of wastewater per day, and can handle the city’s and county’s combined flow. It has the capacity of being further expanded to handle up to 32 million gallons per day, but that’s not being considered for anytime soon, Fawcett said.

He said the Massaponax plant is the most efficient of the three facilities. It also has newer technology, so it’s able to remove substantially more nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment before sending treated water into the Rappahannock River.

“It’s not like this is a wish list. It’s something that we have to do,” said Council member Kerry Devine. She pointed out that the city has been fined in the past for exceeding its discharge permit.

Fawcett said there have been times when heavy rains have overloaded the city’s plant and it wasn’t able to adequately treat wastewater before it went into the river. He said there are no guarantees that a permit violation wouldn’t happen at the Massaponax plant, but Spotsylvania will be responsible for permit compliance if the city consolidates its operation there.

Fredericksburg’s and Spotsylvania’s history of cooperating on providing water and wastewater services dates back to agreements made when the city annexed part of the county in the early 1980s. Fawcett said the agreement the localities made to combine their water treatment operations at the Motts Run Water Treatment Plant, which Spotsylvania owns and operates, can serve as a template for consolidation of wastewater treatment facilities.

The city is also facing the cost of updating that facility, which opened in January 2000. Residents saw a 10 percent increase in water and sewer fees go into effect last July to help pay for both the Motts’ update and the wastewater treatment plant consolidation.

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407

cjett@freelancestar.com

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