Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

March 8, 2013

Town meeting scheduled in Pleasantville

DNR requirements may cost residents, businesses

Steve Woodhouse
Journal-Express

Pleasantville — The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, under the direction of the Environmental Protection Agency, has implemented new regulations regarding pollutants coming into nearby waterways from the City of Pleasantville's wastewater treatment facility. Sewer bills will likely increase, and a town hall meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 12, at 6 p.m. at the Memorial Hall to discuss the plan. 

Pleasantville City Manager Joe Mrstik, Rep. Greg Heartsill and members of Pleasantville's Public Works staff met with DNR Water Quality Chief Shelli Grapp and DNR Permitting Specialist Eric Wiklund this morning at City Hall. The City wanted to share data it has collected, regarding pollutants. 

New permit limitations have drastically reduced the amount of pollutants that can be released. The waterway the DNR is concerned about is Coal Creek, which serves as habitat for fish. Limits for ammonia, for instance, under the previous permit were at 19 miligrams per liter in January. The new permit has dropped that to 5.2.

Pleasantville has already worked to address sewer issues, and made a $2 million investment to reline pipes in the City. Since doing this, the ammonia rate was below 1 from October through December, and as of February, had only reached 4.3. 

Improvements being sought by the DNR would cost approximately $4 million. 

"It's a substantial amount of money for the city," Mrstik said. "The data we have now? We're still meeting the limit." 

Wiklund said, despite five months of data indicating that Pleasantville can meet the requirements without further investment, that the DNR is requiring a new system because lagoons are not expected to meet the permit guidelines.

"For the ammonia, it's really unlikely," Wiklund said. "We're not opposed to any additional monitoring you want to do." 

"We'd be happy to have your numbers be the first one that did (meet requirements without the additional investment)," Grapp said. 

Pleasantville is also showing improvements in reducing E-coli contamination. Wiklund said that when the City begins to address the further removal of ammonia, it will attract more bacteria and increase the level of E-coli contamination the City produces. 

"The environment you create to remove ammonia is the environment bacteria like," Grapp added. Wiklund repeated that the DNR is operating under the assumption that Pleasantville's current wastewater treatment system will not work to stay within guidelines. 

Grapp and Wiklund said the DNR has little leeway in setting these standards for Iowa. They are operating under the direction of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

"It is their program," Grapp said. "They delegate it. We don't have much latitude."

If the DNR did not work to enforce the federal guidelines, the EPA would come in and make demands on communities like Pleasantville itself. 

"Where does the EPA draw their authority?" Heartsill asked. Their authority comes from the Clean Water Act, but Heartsill continued to question how, Constitutionally, the federal government can force environmental regulations on a state. He believes this conflicts with the Tenth Amendment, which addresses states' rights. 

"I'm a purist when it comes back to the Tenth Amendment," Heartsill said. 

Pleasantville currently has until 2017 to meet the EPA's demands. Extensions could be possible if the CIty is deemed to be eligible for economic hardship provisions. In the meantime, the DNR representatives encouraged Mrstik and his staff to continue to move forward in planning improvements. They were also encouraged to continue to collect data, in the hopes that, with demonstrated reduced levels over a period of at least two years, they may be able to avoid the $4 million improvement costs. 

The EPA's new regulations will not only impact Pleasantville, but many other small Iowa communities, including others in Marion County. 

"Pleasantville's just the tip of the iceberg," Mrstik said. 

"There will be more," Wickland added. 

If further improvements are necessary for Pleasantville's sewer system, the costs are going to befall local businesses and residents. Mrstik is concerned not only about the additional costs will have on residents, but about the City's ability to grow and develop if sewer rates become excessive. 

The City is seeking input and wants to share more information with local residents at a town hall meeting on Tuesday, March 12, at 6 p.m., at the Pleasantville Memorial Hall. This event is open to the public. Mrstik also intends to address a project along Jasper Street, which may see some costs assessed to property owners along Jasper.