MWRD Commissioners add to billion dollar budget

  • By Jennifer Slosar
  • Environment Reporter
  • December 12, 2008 @ 9:00 AM

Commissioners at the board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago voted yesterday to add $82.8 million to district’s capital improvement bond fund, boosting a $1.5 billion tentative budget to $1.6 billion.

They then adopted the budget by an 8-0 vote. One commissioner was absent due to illness.

Commissioners say part of the additional funding will expand the scope of work already scheduled for the Thornton Reservoir, part of phase two of the Tunnel and Reservoir Project (TARP). The remainder is going toward construction on the Mainstream Pumping Station, also part of TARP, and the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant.

The addition brings 2009 appropriations for capital improvements to $932.8 million, an increase of $189 million or 25 percent over 2008 appropriations.

The last-minute addition means the total budget is set to increase by $217.5 million, or slightly over 15 percent, from the $1.4 billion budget of 2008.

The tax levy for the budget adopted today remains at slightly over $412 million, a decrease of $13.8 million, or 3.3 percent from 2008.

Taxpayers will pay 26.45 cents per $100 in assessed value.

While engineering and maintenance and operations will see higher appropriations in 2009, general administration, human resources, information technology and stormwater management will see their budgets decline.

The award of $8.6 million in construction contracts next year will fuel progress on major rehabilitation and expansion of the district’s three largest plants, as well as continued work on TARP and other infrastructure projects.

 “We have a lot of aging infrastructure—some of these plants were built back in the 1920s and 1930s,” says District General Superintendant Richard Lanyon. “We’ll need more modern technology to achieve energy conservation objectives.”

The district is adding 22 people to its staff for a total workforce of 2,131. The majority of these positions are in the engineering department.

District officials say that in addition to increasing energy efficiency, increasing pumping capacity and reducing maintenance costs, the upgrades will expand the district’s capacity to recover reusable byproducts of the wastewater treatment process, such as biosolids and digester gas.

Included in the budget is $89 million for a recently constructed pelletizer plant at Stickney that will process biosolids, a nutrient-rich material made from treated sewage sludge. The plant, expected to be operational next year, will process approximately 30 percent of the solids stream at Stickney.

In 2009 the district will produce over 137,000 dry tons of biosolids for use as fertilizer for farmland, final cover for landfill, and top dressing for parks and golf courses. Over 50 percent of the biosolids are used by farmers in northeastern Illinois.

The pelletizer plant will transform biosolids into small granules, which are drier and take up less space than other forms of biosolids.Although the facility will produce an initial increase in operational costs of approximately $5 to $7 million, the process will free up district land and facilitate the district’s continuing efforts to find uses closer to home for the product, says Lanyon.

The MWRD Board of Commissioners will vote on the final budget at 10 a.m., Dec. 18 at district headquarters, 100 E. Erie St. Last-minute amendments may be made at that time.

The new budget will take effect Jan. 1.

Jennifer Slosar is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She covers environmental issues for the Daily News