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Government, Politics & Issues

Here’s how Belleville expects to spend its $15.79M in federal COVID relief

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Belleville News-Democrat
The city of Belleville expects to get $15.79 million in federal COVID relief.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Belleville plans to use most of the $15.79 million in federal aid granted to the city through the COVID relief bill to treat wastewater before releasing it into Richland Creek.

The federal aid also is expected to be used in part to help Belleville businesses affected during the coronavirus pandemic, help control stormwater and pay for park improvements.

The work at Richland Creek would be part of the city’s effort to comply with an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency mandate to overhaul its sewer system that has so far cost about $98 million. The work has been funded by an 8% annual increase in sewer rates that will continue through 2025. The annual rate increases were approved by the City Council in December 2013.

The $1.9 trillion federal COVID relief bill, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, was signed into law by President Joe Biden in March. Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions about Belleville’s portion of the relief.

Has the city already received the COVID relief? 

Half of the money was sent to the city in June and the other half is expected to be sent next June.

What’s Belleville’s tentative plan for spending the $15.79 million?

  • $10 million for sewer projects
  • $2 million for stormwater control improvements
  • $1.5 million for improving public spaces, such as a park. 
  • $1 million for grants to businesses/landlords
  • $500,000 COVID mitigation in public buildings
  • $94,716 to make up for lost city revenue in 2020
  • $697,785 for a contingency fund for the projects listed above or others that arise 

“It’s a huge boost,” is how Mayor Patty Gregory described getting the federal aid, particularly since the city is in the middle of a massive project to renovate its sewer system.

What are the details on the big ticket items?

Except for the sewer improvements, the city has not yet announced how the money will be used for stormwater control, park improvements or grants to businesses.

City Engineer Sal Elkott will oversee the spending of the $2 million for stormwater control but he said a decision has not been made on how to use this money.

Also, the city’s Economic Development, Planning & Zoning Department is still working on the grant program for businesses, according to Finance Director Jamie Maitret.

What is the sewer project?

The City Council this month will consider an $8.68 million bid for the installation of equipment to disinfect water at the lagoons at the city’s wastewater treatment plant located near the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds.

Before the water is released into Richland Creek, it passes through tubes that include ultraviolet lightbulbs to eradicate the reproductive system of microorganisms, according to Randy Smith, the director of the city’s wastewater treatment and sewer line department.

The city’s wastewater treatment plant already has two places where the ultraviolet process is used.

Belleville previously used chlorine to treat the water but Smith said the UV process is safer because the city doesn’t have to store large amounts of chlorine at the plant.

When the city stored the chlorine, it had to have an evacuation plan for a 1.5 mile radius around the wastewater treatment plant, Smith said. Korte & Luitjohan Contractors Inc. of Highland submitted the lowest bid for the work.

Smith said the bid was reviewed by a consulting engineering company, Thouvenot, Wade & Moerchen of Swansea, which recommended the city accept the bid.

Work may begin on this project early next year if the City Council approves the Korte & Luitjohan bid.

How does this project fit into the city’s plan to overhaul its sewer system?

This ultraviolet project is Phase 5 of what’s known as the city’s long-term control plan that the EPA initially approved on Dec. 31, 2007.

Belleville needs to do the work in order to keep its permit to operate a wastewater treatment plant. The plan now has 12 phases and is scheduled to be finished by 2033.

The first four phases have been completed.

Highlights of the first four phases included renovation of the wastewater treatment plant and the reduction of sewer overflows into creeks during heavy rainstorms.

What’s the next phase?

A sewer pump station off South 88th Street is expected to be renovated for Phase 6. While Phase 7 hasn’t been identified yet, it may be the sewer renovations planned on the eastside of Belleville, Smith said.

The U.S. Corps of Engineers is leading this project and the federal government is expected to pay for most of this work, but the city will be required to contribute an estimated $2 million.

Smith said the federal government’s share may be $9 million to $10 million.

It’s possible that the city’s costs for this project may be partly covered by the COVID relief funds, but Smith said that would be up to the City Council to decide.

Since the city had earmarked $10 million for sewer work and the bid for the ultraviolet project was $8.68 million, that leaves about $1.3 million remaining from the COVID relief aid.

What’s the outlook?

Smith said he couldn’t put a “price tag” on all of the work that the state still requires the city to perform.

But he said the city is trying to complete the work “as reasonable as we can and also protect the environment that everybody lives in.”

Mike Koziatek is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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