Marthasville officials have imposed a 180-day moratorium on connections to its sewer system, a response made after the effluent from the city lagoon exceeded its operating limits.
Now steps are being taken to speed up a project to discharge sewage into the Missouri River so that ammonia limits can be controlled more effectively.
The city received a letter of warning from DNR dated March 12 notifying it that the monitoring period ending in January and that the effluent limits, or specifically the ammonia limits, had exceeded standards in the operating permit. The letter noted that the city was in violation of the Missouri Clean Water Law and Clean Water Commission regulations.
According to the discharge monitoring report presented by DNR, the city’s ammonia level was reported at 4.97 milligrams per liter (mg/l). Its average monthly permit limitations are 2.8 mg/l.
Mayor Jason Schantz told The Record the city expects to receive two more warnings for high ammonia limits resulting from samples tested in February and March.
Aldermen voted 3-0 at their last meeting on March 21 to approve an ordinance establishing the 180-day moratorium, which went into effect immediately. Aldermen Jim Struckhoff, John Graham and Mike Kloeppel voted in support. Alderman Leo Tobben, who owns a construction company and has developed numerous residential properties in the city, abstained from voting.
Schantz pointed out that any sewer connection permits that were issued or applied for prior to the moratorium being approved will not be affected. The adopted ordinance only applies to new requests.
Without the moratorium, the city would have to accept all sewer connection requests, Schantz said.
City officials said it was recommended by DNR and city attorney Chris Graville to impose the moratorium.
“We are trying to not stop things, but to control things so we don’t run into any more trouble with DNR,” Alderman Jim Struckhoff said.
Schantz later added: “The facilities that get us into the most trouble with DNR are generally ones that DNR sees no progress or action.”
The ordinance also allows the temporary moratorium to be extended if “reasonable progress” is being made to address the high effluent limits. Schantz also offered that the length of the moratorium could be shortened as well.
The ordinance also provides for an administrative/quasi-judicial review procedure for property owners who may be affected by the moratorium. A property owner can submit an application to the city showing reasons that vested rights exist. Once an application is received, the board and mayor will review it, a public hearing will be held, and a final determination will be made within 31 days.
The city lagoon is maintained by Environmental Services and Associates, of which Schantz is employed as a laboratory manager. He indicated the high ammonia level is not unusual, as the effluent has varied over the past several years. He said that is why it’s important to have waste discharged into the Missouri River, which should help keep the effluent limits within the permitted level.
Schantz last month said more progress had been made on the piping project between the Feb. 15 and March 21 board of aldermen meetings than what had occurred in the previous year. That related to positive talks in obtaining the one remaining easement needed to allow the project to proceed.
A preliminary engineering report has been at DNR as the city awaits final approval. DNR will then issue a permit to allow the waste to be discharged into the river once the piping is installed, officials.
“The reason we’re spending money to go out to the river, that is about the only solution to help the ammonia limits on this particular system,” said Schantz, who did not know the project’s estimated cost. “There is not much else in the meantime we can do other than control things we can control. We can control what is coming into the system.”
The sewer moratorium could slow new development in the city, which has seen its population increase from 837 in 2000 to 1,136 in 2010.
At the same meeting the moratorium was passed, the board gave approval for eight lots to be developed on Two Street for single-family homes proposed by Bob Meyer, a real estate agent in Washington. For certain, the homes could not be connected to the sewer system within the next 180 days.
Tobben expressed concerns about the moratorium.
“We need to do the best we can to stay out of trouble, I agree with that,” he commented. “But we, from recording the limits to knowing we have to fit within the specs, I assumed the man running our system would have been ahead of the game saying, ‘We need to do something here because I think we’re going to get nailed.’ I think we got lax on that.”