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$220 million sewer expansion would have Omaha process wastewater from Sarpy County

$220 million sewer expansion would have Omaha process wastewater from Sarpy County

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The Papillion Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, a few miles south of Offutt Air Force Base, is one of two major waste treatment plants in the metropolitan area.

Sewage flows downhill, as the saying goes, but when the first toilet is flushed in southern Sarpy County as part of a massive sewer expansion, that flush may end up in Omaha.

A plan to spur development in the southern half of the county by expanding the county’s sewer system has previously called for construction of a new wastewater treatment plant south of Springfield.

But the City of Omaha has told the elected officials leading the sewer project that Omaha’s system can process the additional waste.

The wastewater agency behind the project — made up of the mayors of Bellevue, Papillion, La Vista, Gretna and Springfield, as well as the chairman of the Sarpy County Board — recently approved the partnership with Omaha.

The agreement is still subject to approval by the Omaha City Council.

The partnership is a “win-win” for Omaha and the county, said Dan Hoins, Sarpy County’s administrator. The wastewater agency will potentially save millions of dollars by not having to build and operate a new treatment plant. Omaha will receive more revenue by accepting and treating the wastewater.

The total cost of the sewer expansion has previously been estimated at $220 million. Hoins said it’s difficult to say exactly how much the wastewater agency may save, because future phases of the project are subject to so many variables.

“We know it’s going to be a substantial (amount),” Hoins said.

The first phase of the project, which will bring sewer service to an area near 72nd Street and Capehart Road and an area near Springfield, probably won’t be complete for more than two years. The entire project will most likely take multiple decades to complete.

The agency initially expected a private company to design, build, operate and maintain the sewer system, including a treatment plant. Last winter, the agency sought feedback from companies capable of doing that work.

Omaha’s involvement would mean a new treatment plant isn’t necessary, but the agency will eventually seek private bids for a company to install pipes in the ground and build the lift stations that will pump sewage to Omaha. Whether Omaha or the wastewater agency would maintain the infrastructure has yet to be determined, Hoins said.

Jim Theiler, assistant director of environmental services for the city’s Public Works Department, said the city consistently invests in and upgrades its wastewater treatment system. Omaha officials wanted the agency to know that the city would be able to absorb the increase.

“It’s going to be a savings for them,” Theiler said. “It will be an additional source of revenue for our treatment system. So overall, it’s good government.”

The agency formed in 2017. Discussions between the two sides began in December.

Omaha has two major wastewater treatment plants that service the metropolitan area. One, along the banks of the Missouri River near the South Omaha Veterans Memorial Bridge, processes waste from everything east of 42nd Street.

The other, a few miles southeast of Offutt Air Force Base where the Papillion Creek meets the Missouri River, treats waste from western Omaha, Elkhorn, Papillion, La Vista, Bellevue and the military base.

Combined, those two plants treat an average of 110 million gallons of wastewater a day, Theiler said. When the Sarpy sewer expansion is at full build-out decades from now, officials expect it will add about 20 million gallons to Omaha’s system.

But even a decade from now, the addition to Omaha’s system should be relatively low, Theiler said.

“It’s just gonna be a percentage point of what we’re already doing,” Theiler said.

Omaha has been planning for a $50 million investment to increase its solid waste capacity at the Papillion plant. That investment is part of a wastewater system master plan that HDR is working on for the city. HDR also has been consulting with the wastewater agency on the sewer expansion.

As a regional wastewater service provider, Omaha essentially acts as a utility provider and thus can’t profit off its service, Theiler said. So while the city will receive more money from the partnership, its fee structure won’t change.

According to data from the wastewater agency, 67,000 taxable properties were created in Sarpy County from 1870 to 2020. The sewer expansion is expected to create an additional 97,000.

Our best staff photos of August 2020, 402-444-1127, @reecereports

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Reece covers Omaha City Hall, including the City Council and Mayor's Office, and how decisions by local leaders affect Omaha residents. He's a born-and-raised Nebraskan and UNL graduate. Follow him on Twitter @reecereports. Phone: 402-444-1127​

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