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Controversial sewer upgrade plan could cost area utility customers

Lake Saint LouisA controversial plan to upgrade and replace aging sewer lines under the two main lakes in Lake Saint Louis remains in limbo.

Rob Fischer, general manager for Public Water District No. 2 of St. Charles County, said on Sept. 3 that the projected $28 million plan, called the Lake Saint Louis Sewer Improvement Program, remains under an engineering review.

The district’s Board of Directors heard a report at its Sept. 2 meeting from Black and Veatch, an engineering firm that is reviewing the program. The firm’s final report is expected to be presented to the board in October.

But Fischer doesn’t expect the board to take action on any plan until a thorough review of Black & Veatch’s findings and perhaps additional findings and studies are completed.

“Right now, there is no plan,” Fischer said.

Last year, the district placed the project on hold and convened an advisory committee that included Lake Saint Louis residents and Alderman Gary Torlina (Ward 1) to help prepare a proposal for a peer review of the project by another engineering firm. The district hired Black and Veatch for $128,869 to evaluate alternatives and determine the need and cost of inspecting sewers in the city.

The original program called for installing 12 miles of new sewer lines and building 30 new pumping stations around both lakes. To be completed in phases over 12 years, the original financing included a $2 per month additional charge for District No. 2 customers. The district provides water and sewer services to about 100,000 people in much of western St. Charles and Warren counties.

Some Lake Saint Louis residents strongly questioned the district’s plans, particularly the impact of proposed pumping stations on property values. They also were worried about odors and the noise of the stations.

Correcting problems with the city’s aging sewer system isn’t a new topic.

When the city was being built in the 1960s, eight miles of sanitary sewers were buried under the 75-acre Lake Saint Louise and the 600-acre main community lake. District officials have said that if nothing is done, the mains could leak, break or fail and that the mains beneath the lake are more expensive to fix than land-based mains.

Although no plan for the improvements currently exists, the project appears to have caught the attention of at least one neighboring community.

Dardenne Prairie Mayor David Zucker didn’t specifically name the Lake Saint Louis project in public comments to the city’s Board of Aldermen at its Sept. 2 meeting but he did warn city residents that they may have to help pay for a major public works project.

Zucker, who later acknowledged that he was talking about the Lake Saint Louis project, said he had heard it might cost as much as $40 million, which may have to be paid for by all customers of the sewer system.

“There is some discussion about how much that hit is going to be,” Zucker said. “I’ve heard $2 a month, I’ve heard $20 a month.”

Zucker said a Dardenne Prairie staff member attended the public water district board meeting on Sept. 1.

“We’re going to ferret out as much information as we can and get it out to the public because if their project is going to hit us at $20 a month per household, the public should know about it,” Zucker said.

Fischer said typically improvement costs are shared throughout the district but for now details, costs and what customers would pay are unknowns because the district simply doesn’t know right now what it will do with the project under review.

The district may have to conduct more investigations and studies to come up with a revised plan, he said. He did not indicate a timetable.

“It’s a long process,” he said.

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