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CLINTON, Iowa - A consultant on the city of Clinton's wastewater treatment plant project told a city council committee Thursday that the project is likely to cost about $66 million, significantly more than the $40 million the city had expected to spend.

Public Works Director Gary Schellhorn said it is not yet known what effect, if any, the cost increase will have on the city's sewer rates, which were set to increase to coincide with debt payments for the project.

In December, the City Council approved a plan to increase the city's residential sewer rate from 4.86 per 100 cubic feet per month to $6.79 in four increments ending July 1, 2011, for a total increase of 39.7 percent.

Schellhorn said the $40 million price tag was based on numbers compiled when planning for the project began in 2003. Since then, negotiations with the Iowa Attorney General's office over a consent decree that includes requiring the city to build a new wastewater treatment facility in order to comply with Iowa Department of Natural Resources rules regarding the city's sewer system, which were repeatedly violated over a number of years.

David Dechant of HDR Engineering in Cedar Rapids told members of the council's City Services Committee on Thursday that the original rate study did not include costs such as the $2.3 million for property acquisition, building the plant to handle 50 percent more than the capacity needed to accommodate future expansion such as the industrial park planned west of Clinton, and the increase in construction costs that occurred after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005.

Preliminary plans for the project must be submitted to the DNR by the end of July, and the project must be ready to go out for bids in January 2010, Schellhorn said.

Dechant said the $66 million estimate could be 15 percent too high or 30 percent too low, giving the project a range of $56 million to $88 million.

"As much as I hate to be telling you this today, I'd hate it even more to be telling you in January when there's nothing you can do," Dechant said.

Schellhorn said it will not be known what impact the price increase will have on sewer rates until a new rate study is completed, which he expects will be done within a few weeks. Schellhorn said there are options for lessening the impact on sewer rates, such as borrowing the money for the project as needed.

Schellhorn said the city also could ask to delay the construction of a lift station at the current wastewater treatment plant, which after the new plant is built will be used to treat sewer overflow during heavy rain storms.

Schellhorn said the lift station won't be able to be tested until the new treatment plant is complete, so there is no point in building it right away.

Council member Paul Gassman, 4th Ward, suggested that the plant could be smaller, but interim City Attorney Paul Walter said the additional capacity is needed to help attract new industries to town.

"A new industry won't come in if there's no sewer capacity for them," Walter said.

Dechant said adding the extra capacity after the plant is built also would be more expensive.

The committee placed the issue on the council's committee-of-the-whole agenda for July 28.

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