‘Between a rock and a hard place’

Local wastewater treatment plant superintendent Brent McClarnon told the Gazette that the facility has been operating for more than 42 years — 17 years longer than the average life of a wastewater treatment plant — and it’s getting harder and harder to find suitable parts for repairs. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Grant funds awarded for water, sewer lines, but much more is needed

Nearly a year ago, the Kemmerer and Diamondville Joint Powers Board applied for a federal grant through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). At that time, superintendent of the wastewater treatment plant Brent McClarnon said the water side was recommended for funding but not the wastewater side. McClarnon convinced the board to combine the two needed requests together.

The two combined grant applications asked for approximately $3.5 million but only $3 million was granted. Originally, they had planned to ask the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB) for roughly $8 million in ARPA funds, but could not come up with the required 15% match needed.

“The wastewater treatment plant is over 42 years old, and the average lifespan of a treatment plant is 25 years,” McClarnon said. “It is getting to the point where they cannot find parts to repair the aged pumps and lines because nobody is manufacturing them. We have to get a new wastewater treatment plant.”

The wastewater treatment board contacted an engineering firm that provided a preliminary report, which estimated the cost of a new treatment plant at between $40 million and $50 million. McClarnon said even if they got a grant for half of that amount, it will be difficult to obtain the remaining amount needed. Last November, the Joint Powers Board contacted Gov. Mark Gordon and state senators at the SLIB meeting concerning the need for funding.

“Money remains an issue, even after the $3 million grant,” McClarnon said. “We are between a rock and a hard place. It is a challenge for small towns to raise the needed revenue due to low population. We also need a backup generator for the wastewater treatment plant — especially with the nuclear power plant coming in. If we have a power outage, we could not supply them with water.”

McClarnon said they requested $700,000 for a backup generator in the grant application but it would more than likely cost close to $900,000, due to rising costs and inflation. He said when the treatment plant was built, no backup generator was purchased in order to keep costs down. McClarnon said the challenge now is figuring out which parts of the project to cut due to the lack of funding. Another challenge is determining how much pricing has risen and moving forward from there. 

“It’s kind of hard to do the cuts when things are starting to fall apart,” McClarnon said. “I look at this issue like you would if you were trying to eat an elephant, one bite at a time. I don’t want my employees to get discouraged, as we just have to take things in small manageable chunks.”

Video News