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City drops low-interest loan plans for sewer

The Crystal River City Council hastened plans this week to expand the city's sewer treatment plant by deciding not to pursue a low-interest loan. Although the state loan fund process would have saved the city about $200,000 on a $6-million loan, the City Council decided late Monday not to pursue the loan because the application and approval process would take too long.

In order to meet the deadlines set by the state's Department of Environmental Regulation, the city would have to begin building the plant expansion and spray irrigation field next month. But it would have to gather more data to meet tate requirements. City officials plan to double the size of the plant to 1.5-million gallons a day.

Council member Alexander Ilnyckyj was the sole vote against dropping out of the loan application process. He said he hoped to have the plant expansion financed through the low-interest loan while beginning the spray irrigation field immediately.

"We should be trying to save some money," he said.

But other council members decided that wasn't practical and that the process, including opening of bids, has to begin as soon as possible. City Manager Merv Waldrop also explained that the state has notified the city that permits to begin construction on the project have been issued.

On Monday evening the council also voted to bid the plant expansion and spray field in the next two weeks and agreed to spend $50,000 to plug leaks in the city's existing sewer pipes that have allowed outside water to infiltrate the system and increase flows at the sewer treatment plant.

On that project, council member Levi Phillips questioned whether the city could find the leaks in the pipes by spending a few hundred dollars to hire someone to look down manholes with a flashlight when the tide was coming in.

Council member Sid Kennedy countered that the city had the money to spend to repair infiltration problems and that more scientific ways to investigate the location of leaks in the system are used.

In other action, the council agreed to hire two more sewer plant operators to comply with state regulations, but also asked city staff to explore whether the position of utilities director was needed.

Several council members also asked why current utilities director Bernie Hilgenberg is back at work. Hilgenberg was suspended without pay after an internal investigation into his job performance.He was later suspended with pay after his arrest last month on charges related to operating the sewer treatment plant.

Waldrop responded that Hilgenberg was already being paid and the city wanted to get some work from him while his attorney is preparing for his formal hearing on the disciplinary charges.

Council members on Monday also agreed to hire the firm of Clark, Roumelis & Associates out of Tallahassee to write future block grants for the city. Last year, Crystal River didn't apply for a block grant for housing, although city officials learned later that it may have been in a good position to receive such a grant.