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Metro St. Louis sewer district plan improving air quality rejected by county councilman

With MSD Project Clear, the company plans to spend $900 million on new biosolid systems with construction expected to begin by the end of 2023.

ST. LOUIS — The Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) received backlash from a St. Louis County councilman on its plan to upgrade systems at its Bissell Point and Lemay Wastewater Treatment Plants on Thursday.

With MSD Project Clear, the company plans to spend $900 million on new biosolid systems with construction expected to begin by the end of 2023.

Biosolids are solid organic matter recovered from a sewage treatment process and used as fertilizer.

“We're upgrading the process we use to clean biosolids, but especially to reduce the volume of the biosolids so that we're not creating more emissions by trucking it somewhere else,” Bess Mccoy, a company spokesperson, said.

On Thursday, District 6 councilman Ernie Trakas sent a letter to 5 On Your Side outlining a number of concerns he had with the project.

“To be clear, the facilities are built exclusively for the purpose of burning human excrement or feces. In other words, recommitting our region to another 60 years of breathing human waste,” Trakas said in the letter. 

The county councilman added that the project was already in its “Design and Build” phase and would put a strain on residents’ pockets. 

“What this means is that MSD will proceed to construct new incinerators and then seek to impose the issuance of bonds on St Louis County and the City of St. Louis to pay for the costs of construction -- which has been estimated to near a billion dollars,” Trakas said. 

Bess Mccoy with MSD argued that this project set out to improve the quality of air has been in the works for four years with the public, including Trakas, in the know. 

“I've been trying to reach him for the last few weeks because I heard some rumors that he wanted to talk to someone at MSD,” Mccoy said. 

Trakas told 5 On Your Side he didn’t receive any correspondence he didn't get those calls -- but Mccoy was open to that conversation with him. 

In terms of the cost, residents would vote to pay by bond, which Mccoy said would give them the option to pay for the cost over time versus all at once and avoid a larger rate increase.

Regardless, she said MSD had no control over costs because of the obligation to meet standards by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

“While we at MSD know it's [the project] important, it's something that's required by our federal and state regulators. This is a upgrade that we have to make. We don't get to say yes or no,” Mccoy said. 

The project has gained support from community stakeholders, including Greater St. Louis Inc., and the St. Louis City NAACP.

“Both of these new facilities are in areas with long-standing economic and environmental disparities,” St. Louis City NAACP President Adolphus M. Pruitt said. “The investment of $900 million in these neighborhoods by MSD Project Clear, which has a strong track record of meaningful participation by minority and woman-owned businesses, will be a boost for many of these businesses. Moreover, the community-wide benefits of cleaner air will last for generations.”

Both facilities are expected to be complete by 2029. 

MSD also noted the facilities will create 200 new jobs during construction, ongoing high-tech job opportunities once it's completed.

Read Trakas’ full letter below that asks MSD to halt the project:

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