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City sewer plant to see $30 million in major upgrades

– Fort Wayne Board of Public Works members Wednesday approved more than $30 million worth of contracts for upgrades at the Water Pollution Control Plant as part of the city’s 18-year, $240 million effort to reduce the amount of raw sewage dumped into its rivers.

The work, at the plant on Dwenger Avenue, will be some of the least visible but most important elements of the project.

“Out of all our 18 years of plans, this is one of the top three to have the biggest impact,” City Utilities spokesman Frank Suarez said.

The bulk of the work will be upgrades to three of the plant’s six digesters. Though the concrete tanks will remain in place, all the equipment and the lids covering the tanks will be replaced.

The project – which will take about 2 1/2 years to complete – will increase the plant’s capacity by 25 percent, to 85 million gallons a day. That’s enough to fill 129 Olympic-sized pools, and the increased capacity will help prevent street flooding and basement backups.

The digesters are where bacteria attack the biological matter in the sewage, converting it to suspended solids that can be settled out.

The construction contract, with Kokosing Construction, is for $27.6 million. A separate engineering contract with a team of firms led by Arcadis is for $2.7 million, and a third contract with consultant GAI Consultants is for $75,000.

There is also an $85,000 contract with Burch Hydro to clean the sludge out of one of the digesters. And the board in a few weeks will be asked to approve an estimated $2.5 million contract with another firm for construction management of the massive project, said Matt Wirtz, deputy director of engineering for Fort Wayne City Utilities.

The project is expected to cost about $35 million.

Like many communities, Fort Wayne’s sewers were built as a combined system carrying away both sanitary sewage and stormwater. But during heavy rain, the system overflows, dumping an estimated 1 billion gallons of raw sewage a year into the rivers, mostly the St. Marys and Maumee.

Under a federal consent decree, the city is separating storm sewers so they can flow directly to the rivers without bringing sanitary sewage with them. In areas where that’s not possible, the city is creating capacity to handle the larger flows during rain. It’s also increasing capacity at the treatment plant and building storage areas to store overflows until they can be treated.

The projects are being paid for with higher sewer rates.

In other business, the board approved a $527,216 contract with Brooks Construction to add a left-turn lane to Jefferson Boulevard at Taylor Street.