Work is under way at a $15.4-million, stimulus funded Johnson County, Kan., wastewater treatment plant upgrade that is expected to cut greenhouse- gas emissions by 9,700 metric tons annually. While officials involved with the project say the process for obtaining the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARA) funding has gone smoothly, they add that the law’s Davis-Bacon requirement could inflate the cost of the project significantly.

Overland Park, Kan.
Overland Park, Kan.
Crews build anaerobic digesters as part of waste-to-energy upgrade at a Kansas treatment plant.
Photo: CH2M Hill
Crews build anaerobic digesters as part of waste-to-energy upgrade at a Kansas treatment plant.

The project calls for 54,400 pounds per day of additional solids—including fats, oils and greases from restaurant grease traps—to be added to the Douglas L. Smith Middle Basin anaerobic digesters in Overland Park, Kan., to assist in methane-gas production. BRB Contractors Inc., Topeka, won the $15.4-million construction contract.

The additional gas will be captured by a new cogeneration system built to generate electricity. Dale Gabel, vice president of Englewood, Colo.-based CH2M Hill, which teamed with Lee’s Summit, Mo.-based Archer Engineers to design the upgrade, says the new cogeneration system should enable the plant to save $500,000 annually in electricity costs.

Douglas L. Smith Middle
Basin Wastewater
Treatment Plant Upgrade
Jobs Created Total: 270
ARRA Contract Amount $15.4 Million

The project was bid out in December 2008. “We truly had a shovel-ready project,” Gabel says. Now about 20% complete, the project is expected to finish in fall 2010.

County officials hoped stimulus funding could enable them to address a backlog of projects, but unexpectedly high labor costs from ARA’s Davis-Bacon requirements means fewer dollars for future projects, says Johnson County Wastewater’s chief engineer, John Metzler. Kansas typically does not require prevailing wages be paid, and the project was bid based on the BRB’s standard labor costs.

ARA requires prevailing wages, which tend to be higher than local rates in Kansas, be paid on wastewater projects. As a result, the county is renegotiating the cost of the project. Wage rates from when the project broke ground will need to be adjusted, Metzler says.


“We are still awaiting the initial cost analysis from the contractor of the impact of the Davis- Bacon wage rates,” Metzler says. “It could be a fairly hefty change order.”