A proposal that would bring two large wastewater tanks to University City awaits action from the city’s council, whose members say they are skeptical of the plan.
Officials of the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District presented to the council on May 22 the district’s Project Clear plan to build two tanks that are 180 feet in diameter and 35 feet above ground on one of two sites north of Olive Boulevard.
The total capacity of both tanks would be 9.2 million gallons of wastewater, each holding 4.6 million gallons. The plan would also include connecting sewers, a pump station, control building and odor control, according to the district.
MSD presented two options to the council for where the tanks might be placed. One involves placing the tanks on nearly six acres between 82nd Boulevard and Hafner Place that includes 31 residential parcels, including 16 owned properties, 14 rental properties and one vacant lot. MSD reported that 18 of the 30 homes in the area were within the 100-year flood plain.
A second option is nearly 4 acres west of Hafner Place along the River des Peres to the south. There are 20 residential properties there now, including 12 owned properties and eight rental properties. All except one home in this area is reportedly within the 100-year plain. The locations proposed for the tanks were chosen based on historic flooding in the areas and the geographic location of three large trunk sewers, according to MSD.
MSD does not know how much the project would cost.
A consent decree involving the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, the state and U.S. Environmental Protection Agencies and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment requires the district to invest $4.7 billion in wastewater system improvements over 23 years. The agreement began in April 2012.
District spokesman Lance LeComb said Thursday that the proposal was not a “flood control project,” but a plan to eliminate sewer overflows, including overflows that pollute the River des Peres, and basement backups.
The district would acquire the residential property on both sites, displacing dozens of residents, including people living in about 80 units at the Hafner Court apartments. LeComb said the district would help residents with relocation information and expenses, and could consider turning the area into a green space.
LeComb called the plan a potential “win-win for the community,” recalling similar projects in St. Ann, Crestwood and Hazelwood.
The $40 million sewage control facility proposed for Pardee Lane in Crestwood would consist of two sewage tanks, with the capacity to hold 7.8 million gallons.
LeComb did not say if MSD had proposals for more tanks in other areas in the county. He said other projects incorporated different technologies, including nine deep storage tunnels capable of holding several hundred millions of gallons.
Some on the council say they are concerned how the proposal may affect the community, although members said they understood the requirements set by the consent agreement.
Councilman Rod Jennings, who governs the ward slated for the project along with Bwayne Smotherson, said he had received backlash in the past for saying he believed the 3rd Ward had been selected for the wastewater project because it is a predominantly black and low-income area.
“Big utility companies have been known to prey on poor communities,” Jennings said. “There’s got to be alternatives that are not so big and intrusive. It just doesn’t work.”
He suggested proposals that included underground tanks or considering more tanks that are smaller in size.
He said he worried the project could affect voting power, with the loss of residents, and property values.
University City Mayor Shelley Welsch said she believed MSD’s focus should be improving aging wastewater systems and eliminating combined sewer systems in the region.
There are combined sewer systems in St. Louis and 20 other municipalities, according to MSD. The outdated system is not considered environmentally friendly.
Welsch established the River des Peres Watershed Coalition to preserve and improve the river.
“(The tanks) are not beneficial to the people of University City and will not help the problem in the long run and should not be built in a residential area,” she said.
MSD plans to present the plan again at a public meeting later in June after addressing questions from the council.