Leesburg treatment plant on schedule

LEESBURG -- In one of those quirky twists of fate, the recession that sent the American economy into a tailspin couldn't have come at a better time for the city of Leesburg.

Stymied by a wastewater treatment pond that had reached its capacity, Leesburg officials were forced to place a moratorium on development within the city limits until they addressed the problem.

The allocation of $5 million in special-purpose local-option sales tax funding paved the way for the construction of a new treatment plant that, if progress continues as it has for the first four months of the project, should come online by September.

"We were actually helped by the economy not growing," Leesburg Mayor Jim Quinn said. "The EPD (Environmental Protection Division) told us we were at capacity with our wastewater (facility), so we had to place a moratorium on any new development.

"Once this plant goes online, that opens things up for us. The new school and the Lee Farms Development on Robert B. Lee Drive should open development in that area, so things have timed out well as far as the city is concerned."

Ruby Collins of Smyrna has kept construction of the estimated $7 million plant on or ahead of schedule while preparing for the delivery, installation and hook-up of the equipment needed to operate the plant.

"There will be a start-up period of two or three months where we'll bring in some sludge from the current treatment pond to seed the new plant's aeration basin," Ronny Dudley, who is overseeing the project for the city, said Monday. "Once they get the bacteria needed for the treatment process established, it'll be a matter of getting the bugs worked out. At that point the city will ask the EPD to switch over the permit limits to the new plant, and then it's a matter of opening a few valves (to bring the plant online)."

Dudley, who is vice president of Albany-based Stevenson & Palmer Engineering, has overseen the development of the Leesburg plant from its inception.

The new plant includes the aeration basin, two clarifier tanks and a sludge digester, all of which are needed to facilitate the development of waste-eating bacteria that are vital to the process. Once the process has been completed, solid waste sludge is removed from the plant and taken to a landfill in Taylor County, while the treated water is discharged to the adjacent Kinchafoonee Creek.

Water levels in the creek are monitored regularly to make sure they are in compliance with EPD guidelines.

Utilities customers in Leesburg have already seen a $5 increase in their monthly rates, implemented to offset the funding that will be needed to complete payment for the plant. Quinn said the city hopes to raise the needed funds without a Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority loan.

"If we have to borrow the money from GEFA, they will set the utilities rates," he said. "We're trying to keep from doing that. It looks like it's going to be close.

"We've had one change order on the project already, and it actually cut the overall cost. We were expecting to have to borrow millions to pay for the plant, but now we're hoping we can get by borrowing only a couple of hundred thousand."