Tuesday, August 14th, 2007
Celina unlikely to meet EPA deadline
Drinking water not meeting requirements
By Timothy Cox
Celina's chances of meeting its EPA-mandated deadline to fix the city's water have all but evaporated, although city officials still won't admit it.
The project timeline was briefly discussed at Monday's regular Celina City Council meeting. Councilman June Scott expressed concern over the way the project is dragging along.
"We started out in a sprint but now we've kind of turned into a walk," Scott said. He then directly asked Safety-Service Director Jeff Hazel about the EPA deadline.
"Certainly we're still under findings and orders ..." Hazel said, without directly addressing the deadline issue.
Hazel also has refused several attempts by The Daily Standard to clarify the deadline, including again on Monday. It is widely presumed that city officials will attempt to negotiate an extension with EPA officials, as they have discussed in the past, although no such talks are scheduled.
The city plans to build a granular activated carbon (GAC) treatment facility directly north of the existing water plant. The carbon-based filtration will absorb organic material from the water that is responsible for the formation of trihalomethanes (THM) in the water. High THM levels are the reason the EPA issued the findings and orders against the city several years ago.
In an interview following Monday's meeting, Hazel said he cannot accurately estimate a completion date because there remain some unknown factors. The city still must close on its state-backed low-interest loan and there is a long lead time on some of the equipment needed for the facility, he said.
The Daily Standard previously learned that construction is estimated to take 270 to 300 days, or up to 10 months. Even if the contractor begins working Sept. 1, the new facility might not be completed until next June.
Hazel refused to address the issue, saying only that compliant water could be flowing through the city's pipes long before that deadline. The construction estimate includes all issues, including details like grass seeding, Hazel explained.
"I don't have enough information to provide an accurate completion date right now," Hazel said.
The EPA had first mandated a Nov. 7 deadline. In recent months, however, officials at the state agency arbitrarily moved the deadline to Dec. 31. The city faces potential fines of $25,000 per day for missing the deadline.
City officials previously tried to negotiate a deadline during the extensive planning process leading up to the GAC project. An engineer working for the city virtually guaranteed city officials he could win them more time but EPA officials rejected the request.
The GAC project has been slowed a couple of times along the way. City officials went through nearly a year of testing to make sure the technology will work on the high organic content of water drawn from Grand Lake. The project was further slowed a few weeks ago when bids came in vastly higher than estimated and a second round of bidding was required.
Most city officials have remained steadfast over the past few months that the city will meet the deadline, even as it has become clearer there is no realistic chance at doing so.
"Dec. 31 is still the deadline I'm working with," Hazel said during a previous interview.