city hall

With no indication that Belgrade’s building boom will slow down anytime soon, city officials are working with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to figure out exactly how many more building permits the state agency will allow the city to issue before the city’s wastewater treatment plant is expanded.

Construction has just begun on a significant expansion and renovation of the sewer treatment plant, with completion expected in about two years. Until then, the system is operating under a variance from DEQ that allows the city to treat up to 1.25 million gallons of wastewater per day, which is more than the 903,000 gallons per day for which it was designed.

For design purposes, explained Public Works Director Steve Klotz, the city assumes each dwelling unit generates 225 gallons per day of load on the system. By that calculation, city officials estimate they will be able to issue building permits for somewhere between 60 and 100 dwelling units before reaching the 1.25 million gallon cap.

But Klotz said the 1.25 million gallons per day is “kind of a meaningless number” that lacks detailed analysis about how much wastewater Belgrade households are actually generating. The current formula is based on the assumption that each household generates 225 gallons per day.

“As we build the new treatment plant, we want to permit as much as we can,” Klotz said this week. “What we’re trying to do is get down to how much we’re actually using per house per day. We’d like to use those numbers with DEQ to say this is what’s actually happening in Belgrade.”

In some areas, assessing actual discharge is easier than in others. Effluent from the Meadowlark subdivision, for example, is discharged to a lift station, where it is easy to measure how many gallons per minute are flowing through the station pumps. Once that figure is determined, the city can divide that number by the number of households served by the lift station to derive the actual load generated per dwelling unit, Klotz said.

In other areas, determining the actual versus theoretical number of gallons generated per household is a little more complicated. City personnel are sampling monitoring wells, measuring groundwater levels, and evaluating the collected data in accordance 

with soil types to verify their conclusions, Klotz said.

“All that in a nutshell is we’re gathering data and trying to look at what we have specifically in Belgrade to see if DEQ will accept our data and science,” he said.

Klotz hopes the actual data will indicate the existing treatment plant can accommodate several hundred more dwelling units than the 60-100 that would be allowed under the flat 225 gallons per dwelling unit calculation.

“When we look at our numbers, I’d say we have a pretty good chance of increasing that number up to 500 or 600,” Klotz said. “That’s our goal.”

Planning Director Jason Karp said Belgrade has issued building permits for a more than 400 dwelling units in the past two years.

“It seems like we could easily do another 400 between now and when the (expanded) plant opens,” he said.

Klotz said he expects DEQ to evaluate the city’s data and come to a decision within the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, the Belgrade City Council took steps during its Monday meeting to ensure that the sewer treatment plant project will remain on schedule.

After approving an additional but unanticipated $8,885.60 expense for parts needed to install a previously approved aeration system, project engineer Keith Waring suggested that the council grant Klotz and City Manager Ted Barkley the authority to approve necessary change orders that arise between council meetings.

“There are going to be bumps along the way as we do this project,” Waring said, adding that “when the big yellow machines are stopped waiting for an answer, that’s when the dollar amounts start cranking up.”

Waring said more than $3 million has been budgeted into the project to cover contingencies. Allowing city officials to approve contingency expenditures up to a certain dollar amount in lieu of council approval could prevent construction delays. Barkley assured the council that he and Klotz will remain mindful of budgetary concerns should they be called upon to authorize an expenditure related to the project.

“The goal is to get the project done on time and under budget,” Barkley said.

The council voted to grant Barkley and Klotz the authority to approve contingencies up to $250,000.