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Iron Mountain Lake’s sewer operation faces critical issues

IRON MOUNTAIN LAKE — An architectural engineer with a Farmington engineering firm appeared before the Iron Mountain Lake City Council Friday to report his findings on the city’s sewer plant and offered several options the city can take to bring the plant up to EPA standards.

Tim Robbs, P.E., senior project manager with Taylor Engineering, L.L.C., told council members the city’s sewer operation faces two critical issues — the treatment of E.Coli bacteria in the system and lowering the high ammonia content found in the lagoon.

Robbs said DNR mandates ways to treat the presence of E.Coli bacteria.

“It can be treated with chlorine — either in liquid or crystal form — or with a UV (Ultra Violet) treatment, which is the most expensive investment, but also the most efficient and offers the best cost savings over the long run.”

Robbs said the bigger problem faced by the city is the high ammonia content found in the lagoon. He explained that DNR regulations allow for a presence of ammonia between 4.6 and 4.7 ppm, but that current readings for the system range anywhere from 20 to 30 ppm.

“To fix this problem is going to require a complete overhaul of the lagoon,” said Robbs. “It will have to be divided, drained and dredged and then that will have to be repeated on the other side.”

He also noted that the system’s aerators are clogged, not functioning properly and will need to be cleaned and/or repaired.

To finance the changes and improvements required by DNR, the city will have to either acquire a loan or grant or have the city approve a bond issue, which would allow for much lower interest rates than a loan.

The problem faced by the city centers on the lack of records it has kept through the years on the payment of sewer bills by city residents. Also, board members said many Iron Mountain Lake residents haven’t been regular in their payments for sewer service. It was mentioned that one resident had run up a $500 past due balance on his bill.

While council members say the city is now cracking down on residents who haven’t paid their bills in the past and is keeping better records, it may be a case of too little too late in its quest for a loan and/or grants to cover the costs of the work required.

In 2010 the city had entered an agreement with DNR to follow a schedule in having the city’s sewer system reviewed by a licensed engineer and, after finding any shortcomings, begin the process of making improvements to meet DNR requirements. At Friday’s meeting, council members said they had been unaware of the agreement until recently and are now approximately two years behind schedule.

Although the city has not kept up with the agreed upon deadlines, Robbs said that DNR would work with the city if they saw that the city was taking the necessary steps to meet its requirements.

Robbs said, however, that if the city were either unable or unwilling to make the required repairs, DNR would eventually turn the running of the sewer system to an outside party. In this case, city residents could expect a major increase in their sewer bills. As it is, sewer bills will have to be raised substantially for the city to qualify for a loan or grants.

Council members agreed that something needs to be done to make sure the city’s sewer system meets DNR standards “or they’re going to do it for us.”

Robbs said the next step would be for a specific plan to make improvements be drawn up by Taylor Engineering. He said the company would be willing to either contract with the city for the entire project or on a month-to-month basis. Council members said either way would be fine, but they preferred only one bill.

Robbs said he should have more information available at the next city council meeting set for next Monday. There is also a meeting planned with DNR for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Both meetings will be held at city hall.

In closed session following Friday’s open meeting, council members hired Mike Spaeter as the city’s new sewer maintenance worker. In a special meeting held earlier last week, sewer maintenance worker Sonny Davis was fired from his position for undisclosed reasons.

Kevin R. Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 114 or at

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