Benton's new wastewater treatment plant has reached the halfway point of construction and is expected to be operational by spring 2018.
Officials from River City Construction, the general contractor, and HMG (Henry, Meisenheimer and Gende) Engineers say that while most of the construction will be complete by the end of 2017, it will take a few more months to install the equipment and check the system. An April 1, 2018, date has been set for the plant to become fully operational.
"We're at 56 percent completion money-wise and work-wise too. All of their equipment is beginning to show up since we started in January," said Harry Borrenpohl, senior project manager for HMG.
"We have five or six projects like this going on and probably 30 overall," said Mark Hamm, River City Construction site superintendent. "This is a $15 million project, but we will probably do over $230 million in projects this year."
Much of the Benton project is federally funded through the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The project became necessary when city officials could no longer keep up with new federal rules and regulations, according to Public Works Commissioner Ronnie Baumgarte.
"It's something we had to do and it had to be built new," Baumgarte said. "If you look around southern Illinois, we're the third or fourth plant that had to be built. The infrastructure in Benton is old. We've got sewer problems all over town with our collection system. It (the plant) will be top of the line and be used for years and years."
Borrenpohl said the Benton project is not unique, indicating similar projects planned for the communities of Sparta and Pinckneyville will be "cookie cutter" type projects.
"We hope to be operational by December/January. The rest of it is just cutting over stuff from the old plant, seeding, and things like that," he said.
River City has about 25 to 30 construction workers at the site on a daily basis. Several subcontractors, including Clinton Electric in Ina, also have been working at the site.
"We've mainly been concentrating on getting the structures built. We've been doing underground piping and electric. We haven't really started on any equipment yet. Once we get all the structures built, we can start installing the equipment," Hamm said.
"Right now, we've poured over 3,000 yards of concrete on the job and I think it's around 5,000 for the whole project," he added.
Borrenpohl explained how the system will work.
"The flow of water goes to the head works, which is screened and takes out all the heavy stuff," he said. "It flows into a grit chamber, which takes out all the grit and heavy rocks. Then it goes to a terminal lift station that pumps it into the first process, which is the O2 ditch. Then there is aeration and mixing, and that's where most of the process takes place. From there it goes to two clarifiers, which allows the water to clean up. Then the clean water goes to the sterilizer and the creek. The sludge is processed and goes to a screw press that squeezes the water out of it and makes it ready for the landfill."
Baumgarte acknowledged the difficulty of the project.
"It's been a challenge," he said. "We're still looking for grants and/or money to help out. There have been very few days since it started that it hasn't been on my mind because of all the expense."
The Benton City Council was forced to increase sewer rates to help pay for the project. That increase has now been in effect for more than a year.