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Utility rates to increase

Hartselle Utilities will reducing sludge buildup at its waste water treatment plant. The upgrade will mean higher sewer rates. | Clif Knight

A 23-year-old problem of sludge buildup at Hartselle’s Waste Water Treatment Plant is going away, but not without an extra cost to Hartselle Utilities customers.

Ratepayers totaling about 4,500 will see their sewage bills go up in three separate increments over the next 10 months.

The first adjustment affecting residential customers will be a $1.33 per month, or 8.69 percent, base rate increase, effective Aug. 1. A volumetric increase of 35.79 cents, or 7.87 percent, per 1,000 gallons of water used in a month will be added, also effective Aug. 1. The third adjustment will be a base rate increase of 95 cents per month, or 5.71 percent, effective April 1, 2012.

The three increases combined mean that ratepayers will be paying $3.73 more for sewage service after April 1, 2012, according to Bob Sittason, HU finance director. This amount is based on the customer’s average annual use of 4,000 gallons of water per month.

HU will use the additional revenue to pay for upgrading 10 sludge drying beds, installing a 90,500-gallon above-ground holding tank, constructing a 40-foot by 60-foot metal on concrete building and buying and operating a centrifuge.

The cost of the project is projected to be $903,500, of which $483,500 will come from a bank loan. The remaining $420,000 represents local funding.

Revenue from the first rate increase will be pledged to the retirement of the bank loan; the second increase will be used to offset day-to-day operation costs of the centrifuge; and the third increase will be earmarked for the removal of built-up sludge in three sediment ponds.

“We had a sludge study conducted in 2008 and eight alternatives were suggested as ways to approach the problem, which has been building up over the past 23 years,” said HU general manager Ferrell Vest. “The estimated cost was over $4 million, a price we couldn’t afford, so we began looking for a less expensive and more long-term approach.

“A cost-benefit analysis was done and we began putting the pieces of a waste treatment plant upgrade and centrifuge project in place about 18 months ago,” he added.

With in-house construction crews, the drying beds were reconfigured and upgraded to speed up the process of drying sludge after it has been pumped into them from a holding pond.

The liquid part of the sludge is drained through beds of sand into underground pipes, where it is returned to the plant for treatment. Solid matter remains in the beds where it dries out and is then loaded on dump trucks for transport to the Decatur-Morgan County Landfill for disposal.

Over time, sludge will be removed from the ponds and space will be created for the increased flow of waste water that comes to the plant during heavy rain events throughout the year.

The new centrifuge in combination with the 90,500-gallon holding tank will be used to remove sludge from waste water on a daily basis.

The sludge will come out as dry cakes and will be less expensive for disposal at the landfill.

Vest said the centrifuge should be in operation by Sept. 1.