KDHE's "Finding of No Significant Impact" clears the way for Lawrence to borrow $42 million to upgrade the city's sewage treatment plant, which has reached capacity due to growth.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has cleared the way for the city of Lawrence to borrow up to $42 million to pay for expansion of and upgrades to the city's sewage treatment plant.
Last week, KDHE issued a "Finding of No Significant Impact" for the project, which means officials believe it will not have a significant negative impact on the environment.
"The lion's share of the money we have to make low-interest loans to municipalities comes from the federal government, so there are laws and regulations on doing environmental clearances," said Rod Geisler, chief of the municipal program section at KDHE's Bureau of Water.
The finding was needed because Lawrence discharges its treated sewage into the Kansas River, a body of water designated as critical habitat for bald eagles as well as the flathead chub and sturgeon chub, two fish on the state's list of threatened species.
The river also is designated for swimming and fishing, aquatic life support, and a public drinking-water supply.
In a finding released Oct. 26, KDHE said the project would not disturb critical habitat and that the environmental benefits of an upgraded treatment plant would outweigh any short-term negative impacts from the construction project.
The expansion project, scheduled to begin next year, will be the largest single public works project in Lawrence history.
Roger Coffey, the city's director of utilities, said that the project is estimated to cost about $38 million right now but that design plans are only about 60 percent completed.
The project also is among the largest to be financed by KDHE's revolving loan program, which was set up in 1989 to help municipalities upgrade their water and sewer plants to keep up with growing populations and new environmental regulations.
"Our run-of-the-mill projects run $1 to $2 million," Geisler said. "This one is unusual, but it's not the largest."
The city of Lawrence has grown so much in the last 30 years that its sewer plant has reached its capacity, city officials have said.
The project is intended to meet the city's needs through the year 2020, by which time the population of Lawrence is expected to reach almost 100,000.
In addition, the project involves modernizing some aging equipment and improving the plant to meet new state and federal clean water regulations.
The loan will be repaid from rates charged to the city's wastewater customers.
The Lawrence City Commission already has approved a schedule of sewer rate increases that will take the average residential bill from $17.20 to $26.70 during the next seven years.
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