The Ottumwa Courier

February 7, 2013

Water treatment plant restoration was years in the making

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Seven years after city staff began the application, the city was awarded a $16 million grant in August.

At this week’s Ottumwa City Council meeting, staff reviewed exactly what it took to obtain those funds and how they will be used in the upcoming project to revamp the Water Pollution Control Facility.

Ted Payseur, vice president of Veenstra & Kimm Inc., has worked alongside city staff for the past eight years on applying for the $16 million grant the city was awarded to begin the 2010 Flood Protection Mitigation Project.

“I was taller, lighter and didn’t have gray hair when I first started working for you folks,” Payseur said of the project’s start in 2005.

Staff have spent hours upon hours wading through hundreds of pages of documents to make sure every item was in line in order to obtain the much-needed grant, said Public Works Director Larry Seals.

“This is a very exciting night for the city of Ottumwa, for V & K and for those of you who watched us progress,” Payseur said. “Sometimes you lost faith and didn’t think it was going to happen, but it did happen.”

The city received a total of $16,222,100 in funding from FEMA. From that, 75 percent comes from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), 10 percent from the state and the rest through local match, in the form of a CDBG grant.

A federal disaster declaration was issued for Wapello County in January 2008 and again in May 2008, when Ottumwa’s wastewater treatment facility was totally flooded.

“The Des Moines River crested in Ottumwa on June 17, 2008 at 20.6 feet. Flood stage for the Des Moines River in Ottumwa is 11 feet,” according to the Area 15 Regional Planning Commission.

The city first submitted its application for the federal grant in December 2008, preliminary designs began in August 2009 and in August 2012, the city was finally awarded the grant.

“The state awarded $75 million [to 12 projects], of which Ottumwa got 21 percent,” Payseur said. “Storm Lake got 22 percent. We’re proud of what we were able to do for our cities.”

Payseur said credit should be given to the current and past mayors and city councils, city administrator, public works director, city engineer, area senators and representatives, Iowa Homeland Security and FEMA, consultants — and the “timely flood of the water plant.”

“When you think about it and all the stress that caused, it was the driver for the grant,” Payseur said of the 2008 flood. “They were able to see in the 2008 event that your project fits well into the criteria.”

Costs have increased over the years due to inflation, but the grant size also increased $2.3 million to what the city was awarded last year.

“The reason you’re getting the money, it has to do with the protection of the water plant and the amount of water on Gateway Drive,” Payseur said. “Once again, when someone gives you $16 million, you listen very carefully to what they want you to do.”

In 2011, Ottumwa was the first city in Iowa to get a 25-year long-term control plan schedule to complete its sewer separation project, he said, far longer than the original offer of 15 years. This gave the city more flexibility with 10 more years to finish the project.

To date, the city has received nearly $28 million in outside funding:

• $12.2 million from FEMA

• $6.5 million in State and Tribal Assistance Grants

• $5.3 million Community Development Block Grant

• $3.08 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 Stimulus

• $800,000 I-JOBS grant for disaster prevention

Engineers estimate construction costs on the project will total more than $41 million.

“But you have received 67 percent of your construction costs in grants ... not loans, but grants,” Payseur said. “The reason you got the grant is it’s cost-beneficial to do things like improve the water plant.”

Since inflation will increase the project cost over time, Payseur said there’s also a chance FEMA would be able to finance those increases.

“As you go through four to five lettings and multiple contractors are working, FEMA will take a look and if you’re still within that factor, maybe they’ll give you more grant money,” Payseur said.

Construction is supposed to be completed by August 2015, and Payseur said if projects are letted this year, construction could begin by this time next year.

But he had concerns about the possible purchase of property needed in the project.

“If it goes to condemnation, that adds six months or more to the schedule,” he said. “Another concern is traffic disruption. You can’t tear up all the streets in Ottumwa; there are key areas you need to keep open.”

The final factor is weather. While Ottumwa has enjoyed a mild couple of winters, it has also endured flooding and the penetration of the levee in three places.

“Above all else, the goal is cost control and to keep costs within the grant,” he said.

He said he will also continue to look for additional grants the city can apply for to help with the cost of the project.

Councilman Brian Morgan asked if the award of this substantial grant means taxpayers’ sewer rates will not increase in the coming years.

“I think they’re going to be able to stay pretty flat,” Payseur said. “Now that you got the grant, it makes a big difference on sewer rates.”

But Seals said the council needs to keep in mind that there are pending federal regulations that could affect the city’s sewer rates.

“I’m being a realist and I don’t want to paint a rosy picture when there are continuing regulations out there that could have a major impact on us,” he said.