WILLISTON — Population growth has influenced the city commission to approve $125 million in loans for a new water resource recovery facility—a project that must be completed on schedule to meet effluent quality requirements.

When Gov. Jack Dalrymple elected not to hold a special legislative session, he recommended the city request a loan from the Bank of North Dakota. The city agreed and requested money from the state's revolving loan fund, which is fixed at a 2 percent interest rate over 20 years. The city expects to pay the loan with revenues from wastewater treatment and gross production tax.

City authorities said this week the current lagoon system, which is more than four decades old, is running over capacity. The city built a $7.5 million interim tertiary system to supplement the outdated plant two years ago, but complications with federal agencies have rendered it inoperative since May.

“We've had a constant rate of discharge because we can't run the tertiary plant,” said Public Works Director David Tuan.

Fish died in the Williston marsh in May, and the U.S. Army Cops of Engineers became uncertain of how the city's tertiary plant effected the marsh, Tuan said. Within the month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency arrived on scene and investigated concerns.

The EPA has yet to report its findings, but the tertiary plant remains closed for good measure. The city still has its permit from the North Dakota Department of Health, and has tried to refine how the plant runs to mitigate federal concerns and get back online this fall, pending any unforeseen actions.

“No tests have been conducted to determine the cause of death,” said Tuan, who added that the bulk of city storm water also travels into the marsh, and that fish also died in White Earth Bay that same day. Drastic changes in weather could have affected natural habitats, he said.

Meanwhile, the city has worked to implement the new facility to serve a projected population of 56,300 people by 2020.

The new facility was designed for city land, but it's pipeline will be on the Corps' property. The Corps has signed off on a temporary easement until 2017, but a permanent easement remains on the horizon. The NDDOH has already approved the new facility.

Given the current needs, the city has started construction on phase one of the facility, which will serve 50,000 to 60,000 people. Half of the project is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2016, while the second half will be completed in the fall of 2017.

The footprint for the entire facility has the capacity to serve 120,000 people.

“The location has this capacity. We wouldn't need to relocate or draw new designs. [This is important because] we don't know when this growth is going to stop,” said Tuan, who added that the city hired engineer AE2S and Minnesota-based contractor Rice Lake Construction Group. “We are optimistic we're going to stay on schedule.”

Last year, the city approved $25 million for phase one, but has only used $6.5 million since starting construction in October. The newly acquired $125 million state loan will be distributed as needed over the course of construction.

The city expects to save money by reusing treatment filters and ultraviolet lamp equipment from the tertiary plant toward the new facility, which will operate in concert with the lagoon system.

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