Joco 913

Tomahawk treatment plant takes step toward $280 million rebuild

The Kansas City Star

Design work will soon be underway on a $280 million rebuild of the county’s wastewater treatment plant in Leawood, now that the county commission has approved major funding for it.

County commissioners voted unanimously to add about $21.4 million to the previously approved $4.1 million to design an upgrade to the Tomahawk Wastewater Treatment Facility so it can handle all of the water in its watershed area. The project, which will involve demolishing and rebuilding much of the plant at 10701 Lee Blvd., also will update the water treatment so that it meets new, stricter federal guidelines for the treated water.

For about a decade the county has studied its options on the plant, which was built in 1955. The plant only has enough capacity to handle about 40 percent of the wastewater generated in its watershed, with the remainder sent to Kansas City for treatment. It also is outdated for the modern regulations limiting the amount of nutrients that can be released in the treated water.

In 2014, the county contracted with Black & Veatch and HDR Engineering for a detailed study on costs and permits. As a result, the commission recently decided to expand the plant rather than continue to send water to Kansas City. Rebuilding the plant will cost less in the long run than sending the water to Kansas City because Kansas City’s rates are expected to increase 12 to 15 percent each year, according to staff reports. Kansas City is paying for upgrades in its own system required by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The new plant will handle 19 million gallons a day — the most the drainage basin is expected to ever generate, said Wastewater General Manager John O’Neil.

Two people spoke at a public hearing held Thursday. Misha Bailey of Lenexa said she was worried after hearing news stories of high water bills in Kansas City. “Is our water bill going to go up?” she asked. Bailey, who works at jobs in Kansas City and Lenexa, said later she chose to live in Lenexa because of the high utilities in Kansas City. Even though rent in Kansas City is cheaper, utilities can make up the difference, she said.

Commission Chairman Ed Eilert said the water bill from WaterOne and the county wastewater bill are separate and that the cost of the treatment plant has been figured into the annual rate increases for wastewater.

In fact, the county wastewater bill will be going up, but at a slower pace than in Kansas City. The county expects annual increases from 5 to 7 percent from 2016-2024. However wastewater officials have never broken out how much of that increase the Tomahawk plant will be responsible for.

Jeff Harkness of Overland Park questioned whether the new plant could have been done more cheaply if it was built at another site, rather than rebuilt at its current location. Eilert said the site is dictated by topography, since the system depends on water running downhill, and that the county did not own other suitable land in the area.

The design phase of the plant is expected to take about two years, with construction beginning afterward and lasting another three to three and a half years.

Also at the meeting, commissioners took action that will allow construction to start this month on a new paved two-lane road linking Nall Avenue to Mission Road in the county’s southeast corner. The commission approved a $4.5 million contract with Clarkson Construction Company to build a new section of 183rd Street to handle increasing traffic expected with development.

A road ran through that area in the 1800s, but now there’s just about a half mile of a small road that has served local residents, said Geoff Vohs of the county public works department. The new road requires a bridge. All of the land acquisition has already been done, he said.

The commission also started the process of building new Monticello and Lenexa libraries and expanding the Blue Valley Library. The library expansion was approved last year as part of a 3.30 mill levy increase last year that included long-term park and transit projects.

Commissioners authorized $17.4 million for Monticello, and $21.6 million for a library to be built at Lenexa’s City Center. Another $2 million was approved for improvements at the Blue Valley Library. The county will eventually issue bonds to finance the work.

However the commission balked at a proposal to reallocate and spend $1.7 million of library reserve money to consolidate and move staff from the Antioch branch to Central Resource Library. The county wanted to reconfigure the space to use it more efficiently and ease the parking situation at Antioch, said County Librarian Sean Casserley. Recent renovation at Central Resource Library will help make that possible. But commissioners said they wanted an extra week before deciding.

They did approve an $85,000 study to decide whether the county needs a logistics center to more efficiently handle items as they are returned.