From Belowground Up

Kansas City is promoting economic growth by building a new sewer line through 13,000 acres of underdeveloped prime real estate.
From Belowground Up
Workers from Kissick Construction prepare the ground for a section of HOBAS pipe at the Second Creek Interceptor project located at NW 108th Street and Green Hills Road in Kansas City, Mo. (Photography by Denny Medley)

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The City of Kansas City, Mo., has long had its eye on developing the Northland, an area located north of the Missouri River. The city’s ambitious First and Second Creek Sewer Expansion Project is a $45 million investment in an area that is expected to attract hundreds of businesses and more than 70,000 residents over the next three decades. It’s only the first phase of a project that could ultimately see as much as $70 million invested in area wastewater infrastructure.

The plans for the sewer expansion were drawn up so long ago that Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. However, the story begins in 1946, when cities across Missouri engaged in a competition for territory in a wave of annexations. Missouri law gave preference to the first city to file an annexation claim, provided it offered clear plans to extend municipal services to the area in question.

In 1958, Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle summed it up for the Kansas City Star: “We have to do our expanding while we can, not after it is too late.”

The Kansas City Master Sewer Plan, developed in 1957 by engineering firm Black & Veatch, contemplated sewer connections to the area before it became part of the city. However, in 1962 the city annexed 122 square miles of unincorporated Platte and Clay counties — part of the Northland — and supported the claim with a more detailed plan for sewer and water service.

Sewers bring growth

The annex included both the First and Second Creek watersheds and the much smaller Little Shoal Creek Watershed. Now served by sanitary sewers, the Shoal Creek Valley area has recorded four of the five highest growth census tracts in the city in terms of population. The current project area in the First and Second Creek watersheds, on the other hand, was described in a recent City Council report as “a big underdeveloped doughnut hole” of about 13,000 acres and 1,000 residents in the middle of a booming Northland area, specifically because it lacks adequate sewers.

“The current project was discussed following the annexation,” says Terry Leeds, the city’s director of Water Services, the department responsible for water, wastewater and stormwater. “An alignment study was conducted and there were easements acquired in the 1960s to build the sewer line.”

Although voters and City Council had approved plans and bonds for the construction, new sewers subsequently serviced only part of the area. The First and Second Creek watershed project was ultimately shelved until it was championed by several city councilors and approved for action in 2010.

“It’s primarily rural farmland and single-family residential through that acreage,” says Leeds. “The area is largely served by individual septic tanks.”

The development is being divided into two distinct projects. The First Creek Interceptor will run 23,000 linear feet and will service more than 4,000 acres of land. It features polyvinyl chloride pipes 24 to 30 inches in diameter. It will run from two existing wastewater pump stations, North Bristol and South Bristol, north to the new First Creek Pump Station. The Second Creek interceptor will service almost 8,000 acres. It will use 29,500 feet of 24- to 48-inch pipe, with the 24-inch portion specified as ductile iron, due to the depth of the excavation.

Pumping stations retired

“We had some development in the top of the watershed where we built six temporary pumping stations that took wastewater from the area and pumped it to a force main that conveyed it to one of our treatment plants in the south,” says Andy Shively, engineering officer with Kansas City Water Services. “Those pumps are nearing the end of their service life.”

The undersized pumps can now be retired. A permanent pump in the First Creek watershed will convey flow to the Rocky Hill Wastewater Treatment Plant. An interim pump will be built in the Second Creek watershed and convey wastewater to the Todd Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant until the second phase of development is announced.

“All of the treatment plants receiving the wastewater were already designed with the capacity required to treat the anticipated volumes from the Northland,” says Shively.

Looking back at the original sewer master plan drafted in 1957 demonstrates just how much remains the same — and how much has changed.

“Comparing the two approaches, the new project resembles the original project plans somewhat,” says Shively. “However, the creeks in the area of the proposed project had meandered, changing the landscape enough that we no longer had enough land to put in the sewer. Ultimately we altered the original alignment and acquired new easements. It was certainly interesting to see what 50 or 60 years can do to the topography. Construction challenges on the current design include setback ordinances, creek crossings and bank stabilization.”

A plan for renewal

The Northland sewer expansion project in Kansas City is being undertaken while the city continues to refurbish its existing wastewater infrastructure.

The city entered a consent decree with the U.S. EPA in 2010, a year after adopting an Overflow Control Plan designed to fix major infrastructure problems to reduce CSOs, develop green infrastructure to improve on the results, then build only the new infrastructure required to meet the regulations.

“We knew in 2002 that EPA enforcement was building up, so we were already laying the groundwork for plans to deal with combined sewer overflows,” says Leeds. “We began flow metering studies in 2004 and had already planned green infrastructure projects to stop surface water from entering the system.

“The large physical area of the city has a fairly small population of 460,000 people, so project affordability is critical. Plans for the area with combined sewers include increasing wet weather treatment capacity, rehabilitating neighborhood sewers and increasing in-line storage. Plans for separate sewers will include inflow and infiltration reduction, increased storage and additional wastewater treatment capacity.

The oldest sewer pipes in the system date back to the Civil War.

“Kansas City is a big railroad hub, and railroad companies don’t like hills, so a lot of the sewers are rock walled with stone arches on top — former creek beds of waterways that were eliminated years ago,” says Leeds. “We also have a lot of brick and masonry sewers.”

The smallest pipes are 8 inches in diameter, and the largest are 20-by-20-foot concrete box sewers. “You could drive a bus through those,” says Leeds.

For the most part, new sewers are constructed to coincide with new development. New installations generally employ PVC or ductile iron.

The city performs its own spot repairs for leaking joints and short line repairs but largely contracts out construction and repair work.

Public-private partnership

In the case of the new sewer work, Water Services planned the whole project in conjunction with three consulting firms. Lutjen Inc. designed the First Creek interceptor, Carollo Engineers designed the Second Creek interceptor and CH2M HILL designed the sewer pumping stations. Black & Veatch, author of the 1957 sewer master plan and still headquartered in Kansas City, was also awarded several design contracts for the new sewer.

The construction project is being staged and tendered in smaller packages to encourage competition among bidders.

“We received a lot of good bids, including many local contractors,” says Shively.

Shively notes, however, that the public-private partnership behind the sewer project has been the key to making everything work. The project is funded primarily through sewer bonds, but also through a partnership between Kansas City, the KCI Corridor Tax Increment Financing Plan development commission, and local real estate development companies Hunt Midwest and MD Management, both landowners in the area.

“KCI TIF has been overseeing development in the area and entered into the agreement with the two developers,” says Shively. “The city will own and operate the infrastructure.”

Construction of the first phase of the project is set to conclude in the late summer of 2014.

“Working in the Northland, we encountered one or two people who were around in the early 1960s when this project was first conceived and who were happy to see it finally come to fruition,” says Shively. “There’s a great sense of optimism in the city about the development that will result from this sewer project.”


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