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Wastewater treatment plant decision not easy, but best for city E-mail
Tuesday, 13 March 2018 08:50


L&T Publisher Earl Watt

After many discussions about wastewater treatment and possibilities of creating one plant in partnership with National Beef or creating a city-only plant, it appears that Interim City Manager Cal Burke is requesting the city build a city-only plant.

Like any such decision, there will be those who agree and those who disagree, and it would have been the same if the decision to build a combined plant was made. In other words, this was not one of those choices that would satisfy everyone.

But let’s take a closer look at the decision-making process.

Let’s start with Burke who is making the recommendation. Before becoming the interim city manager, Burke was in charge of the wastewater treatment plant. His expertise and knowledge dealing with these issues is vital to such a far-reaching decision. These plants are expensive and have an engineered life of about 20 years even though many can last much longer. Burke has intimate knowledge of the inner-workings of these plants, and he knows the abilities and challenges of working in partnership with industry.

National Beef is a substantial contributor to the local economy, and they have a great deal of wastewater that is used in the production of beef and the operation of the plant.

If there was a way to guarantee that the city residents would never be responsible for any additional entanglements with such a large producer, I’m sure there would have been a way to make a joint plant work.

But as we all know, there are no such guarantees.

While there is always the possibility of a major plant like National Beef moving out, and how that can create concessions from municipalities to keep large employers, in this case that constant cloud of doubt might have worked against a joint plant. After all, if National were to leave town, who would make the payments on the much larger-than-needed water treatment plant?

I don’t foresee this ever happening, but the question is not whether it would happen but rather that it could.

During talks with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, I asked if any other community has a joint wastewater plant with a large producer like National Beef so we could examine how that partnership is working. KDHE told me that they were not aware of any such partnerships in Kansas.

That means in places like Garden City, Dodge City and Emporia, none of them are operating what was proposed to happen here. No one is operating a municipal and heavy industrial combined wastewater treatment plant.

That’s not to say these plants aren’t handling commercial wastewater. Every business in town that sends water down the drain is using the plant. But heavy industrial use like National Beef is not partnering with municipalities on a joint plant anywhere else in Kansas, according to KDHE.

It appears in other areas, the city will be working with National Beef on lagoon clean-up and other areas of shared concern, a clear sign that the city appreciates and wants to help National Beef be as successful here as possible.

But the plant itself is being proposed to be a city-only plant.

With the amount of discussions on the issue and the concerns of the city residents, this was the safest solution they could have made.

National Beef will still be able to create their own plant to serve their own needs, and the residents will have a municipal system to service theirs.

Sure, the City might have been able to save some money on the construction of a joint plant, but it would have come with additional risk as well, something that it appears Burke is not willing to endorse or recommend.

We have expertise on staff for a reason, and they have a responsibility to work with and for the people of the community. It appears Burke has done that, and the decision now rests with the City Commission to make the final call.




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