YOUNGSTOWN — With plans to rehabilitate Youngstown’s two incinerators to burn sludge very much up in the air, city officials agreed to sign a two-year contract for a landfill to continue taking the waste at a higher cost.
It will now cost $1.4 million annually for the Carbon Limestone Landfill in Lowellville to take the sludge, a 30 percent increase from the $1,077,000 in an expiring contract. That $1,077,000 cost was also a 30 percent increase from the previous contract.
The rate increased based on inflation costs, a rise in fuel and transportation expenses and other costs related to taking the sludge, said Charles Shasho, the city’s deputy director of public works.
Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th Ward and chairman of the public utilities committee, said: “It’s a cost adjustment related to operating expenses. It is the reality. We’re still looking at our options with the incinerator and what makes the most environmental and economic sense for the city.”
With funding for the estimated $24 million incinerator project uncertain, it isn’t known what impact the work would have on city wastewater ratepayers, Shasho said.
“A rate study will have to be done in the next couple of years,” he said. “I don’t know if the ratepayers will pay any more. It depends on how much we have to borrow. We’ll do an impact study for wastewater rates.”
The city administration had wanted proposals for the incinerator work to start this summer and be done around August 2023. That has been pushed back to start around early next year and would take about two years to complete.
But that is far from certain.
“We’re kind of in neutral with the incinerators until we know what we’re doing and where we’re getting the funding,” Shasho said. “Landfilling was supposed to be a temporary process until we get the incinerators back on line. It will be a time until we get them on line and have further discussion. Until then, we have to continue disposing sludge. But we need to decide on the process sooner rather than later.”
MS Consultants Inc. of Youngstown and Black & Veatch of Overland Park, Kan., estimate the cost of putting the city’s two incinerators back online at $24 million.
The city also has spent $900,000 already on design work for the project with another $2.3 million in costs to the two firms.
The city is seeking an $8 million federal earmark for the incinerators that Katie Phillips, an urban planner for MS, called “very much a lofty goal.”
The city won’t know about the federal money until the fall, Shasho said.
The city also is seeking a loan from the state Environmental Protection Agency that would become a grant as it includes “principal forgiveness,” Shasho said.
“The principal forgiveness looks good,” he said.
But how much the city could receive is unknown, Shasho said.
“We’d seek as much as possible, but we have no idea on forgiveness,” he said.
The city administration still is looking to use some American Rescue Plan funds to offset the expense of this project, but it would be the final dollars into the project, Shasho said.
The administration initially had asked for all of the construction and engineering costs of the project to come from ARP, but after council members strongly opposed that suggestion, it was taken off the table.
The administration still is looking for about $8 million in ARP funds for this project.
The rest of the money would come from a state EPA loan with a 1 percent interest rate repaid over 20 years.
Including the savings from not using the landfill and the incinerator operating costs using only the EPA loan would cost the city about $785,000 annually, Phillps said. But that projection was before the latest landfill increase so the annual cost would be less.
“The absolute worst case is $24 million from the EPA,” Shasho said. “We want to get a combination of the earmark, principal forgiveness and up to $8 million in ARP money,” Shasho said.
Another way to reduce the expense would be to improve just one incinerator, Shasho said.
“If we go to one incinerator it could be $5 (million) to $6 million in savings or it could be more,” he said. “It wouldn’t be half.”
The city’s wastewater treatment plant used two incinerators that burned sludge from 1956 until 2016. The federal EPA in 2016 required the city to shut them down because of emission violations. That forced the city to haul the sludge to the Lowellville landfill.
Originally published by David Skolnick with The Vindicator.