Whitefish to Receive $20.1 Million in State Loans to Upgrade Wastewater Treatment System

Facility has struggled to meet new treatment standards as community expands and demand increases

By Tristan Scott
The wastewater treatment plant in Whitefish. Beacon File Photo

The city of Whitefish has been approved for three State Revolving Fund (SRF) loans worth a combined $20.1 million to upgrade its wastewater treatment technology and meet more stringent standards for treating ammonia and other nutrients.

The city’s wastewater collection and treatment system has over 58 miles of sewer main and 16 lift stations, portions of which are more than 100 years old, according to state and city officials. Despite a series of modifications over the past 35 years, much of the system is at the end of its useful design life. The facility has struggled in recent years to meet new treatment standards for ammonia and will have difficulty meeting new limits for nitrogen as the community expands and demand increases.

To finance the needed improvements to its treatment plant, Whitefish will borrow $20.1 million in the form of three SRF loans for $10 million, $9,845,000 and $350,000. The first two loans will carry an interest rate of 2.5 percent for 20 years; the third loan will be forgiven if certain conditions are met. In addition to the loans, Whitefish also received a Renewable Resource Grant from Department of Natural Resources and Conservation for $125,000. The town will also commit $3.9 million in local funds.

The total project cost is $24,933,385.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will oversee implementation of the project while DNRC administers the loan.   

“Communities that invest in modern infrastructure, including drinking water and wastewater treatment systems, benefit now and for generations to come,” Gov. Steve Bullock stated Feb. 11, when he announced the loans. “These projects not only create good-paying jobs for Montana workers, they better prepare our communities for new growth and development to enhance the health and well-being of our citizens, and protect our soil, groundwater and surface water.”

Swank Enterprises of Kalispell has been awarded the bid for the project, slated for completion in December 2022.

According to Craig Workman, Whitefish’s director of Public Works, the DEQ in October 2012 issued the city an Administrative Order of Consent (AOC) due to several violations of the city’s wastewater collection and treatment system. As a result, the city entered into a compliance plan with the state detailing the completion dates that must be met in order to bring the Whitefish Wastewater Treatment Plan into compliance, including updated requirements for removal of ammonia, nitrogen and phosphorous in the city’s updated wastewater discharge permit. As part of the AOC, the Whitefish City Council approved a Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) in 2016 recommending that a mechanical wastewater treatment facility be designed and constructed in the location of the city’s existing wastewater lagoons.

The type of wastewater treatment plant selected is called a Sequencing Batch Reactor, or SBR, Workman said, which will be smaller and more efficient.

“An SBR is a type of activated sludge plant where multiple unit processes are contained within the same concrete basin, saving space and cost,” Workman said.

The equipment for the SBR was bid in September 2018 and the city selected the AquaNereda (Nereda) system, a technology that “will allow us to build smaller basins which are less than the size of more traditional SBR basins, allowing for construction savings, reduced energy consumption, and more effective use of the land at the treatment plant site,” Workman said.

Once the equipment procurement process was complete, the city was able to proceed with the final design for the wastewater plant improvements.

“Ultimately, plans were completed last September and submitted to DEQ for approval,” Workman said.

Final approval was received from DEQ on Oct. 16, 2019, and bids were opened the following month, with the city awarding the construction contract to Swank Enterprises last December.

Swank broke ground on the project earlier this month and it is expected to last 18 months.

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