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Wastewater on Council agenda

Daily News Staff Writer

A consultant report containing 22 recommendations regarding the City of Ketchikan’s Wastewater Division and wastewater treatment plant is a focus of a special Ketchikan City Council meeting scheduled for Thursday evening.

The City Council commissioned the report by CH2M Hill Engineers Inc. in May after concerns about the Wastewater Division’s performance were expressed by City Public Works Director Mark Hilson and City Manager Karl Amylon.

In a May 10 memo to Amylon, Hilson wrote that his concern about the division began when he started as public works director.

“I take no pleasure in reporting that despite our best efforts, the overall division is still not functioning at the level that should reasonably be expected for a facility of this type and this level of staffing,” Hilson wrote in the May 10 memo, citing in particular a failure of the Wastewater Division to meet an EPA National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit requirement for effluent limitations in April.

Hilson wrote that ongoing performance issues and the April failure to meet the NPDES limitations prompted a solicitation of a proposal from CH2M Hill Engineers to evaluate the operations and maintenance of the division’s wastewater treatment plant and pump stations, and to make recommendations.

Also on May 10, Amylon wrote a memo to the City Council, saying he shared the concerns detailed by Hilson. Amylon added that he believed an evaluation was warranted by two additional reasons.

“First, an evaluation conducted by an independent entity is a useful tool by which the city can assess the operations of a specific department and/or division with a goal of improving performance,” Amylon wrote. “... Secondly, if the city is not diligent in its efforts to improve the performance of the Wastewater Division, it is likely that regulatory agencies such as the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and/or EPA may subject the division to a Compliance Order by Consent similar to that which was imposed on the city for the Water Division. Such regulatory sanctions can be expensive to negotiate and implement.”

On May 18, the City Council approved an agreement of up to $38,387 for CH2M Hill Engineers to evaluate the wastewater treatment plant and collection system.

On Thursday, the City Council will consider whether to accept the completed report, and to direct Amylon and Hilson to implement its recommendations — all of which, according to Amylon’s Oct. 6 memo to the council, have been endorsed by Hilson and the assistant public works director.

The 22 recommendations span areas from management and staffing to operations and maintenence. The recommendations are ranked in priority, with 15 recommendations listed as top priority.

Among the top priorities are developing a site-specific training plan for all associates, reducing use of city water by filling basins with wastewater rather than city water, starting weekly process-control meetings, implementing flushing and five-year cleaning plans for the collection systems, and using a  computerized maintenance management system to schedule, track and report on preventative and corrective maintenance.

The agenda for Thursday’s meeting has two other items.

One is a proposed executive session for council members to discuss capital investment strategies for the Ketchikan Public Utilities’ Telecommunications Division.

Amylon wrote that the draft 2018 KPU operating plan and capital budget will be submitted to the council on Nov. 2.

“Telecommunications Division Manager Ed Cushing and I believe it would be appropriate to review future telecommunications capital investment strategies with the City Council in advance of my office submitting next year's spending plan,” Amylon wrote in the agenda statement. “As this will involve a review of certain strategic competitive aspects of the Ketchikan Public Utilities Telecommunications Division business plan, it would be appropriate for such a discussion to take place in executive session.”

The other agenda item is an information-only report from the city manager regarding the Community of Ketchikan capital project and policy issue priority lists that were compiled by city, Ketchikan Gateway Borough and City of Saxman representatives on the Lobbying Executive Committee.

The top priority on the three-item policy list is that the current arrangement for distributing commercial passenger vessel funding in the Ketchikan area be continued.

The Ketchikan City Council gave its approval to the capital project and policy priority lists on Sept. 21.

On Sept. 27, the City of Saxman approved the recommendation of the legislative projects as prioritized, but recommended a reconsideration of the current arrangement for sharing the CPV funding “so the City of Saxman receives annually (versus) lobbying the KGB for a share," according to an email from Saxman City Administrator Leona Haffner to the borough.

In the agenda statement for Thursday’s meeting, Amylon writes that Borough Mayor David Landis indicated that he planned to call a meeting of the Lobbying Executive Committee to address the City of Saxman’s objection.

“Until such time as the Lobbying Executive Committee meets, I advised Mayor Landis that I would withhold submitting this matter to the City Council for formal consideration,” Amylon wrote. “My office will keep the City Council advised accordingly.”

The Ketchikan City Council meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Thursday in the council chambers at 334 Front St. There is time for public comment at the start of the meeting.