OLEAN – Problems with the wastewater-treatment plant have been around for about as long as the building has been in operation, according to a city official. In fact, since the building was commissioned in the early 1970s, notifications from the state Department of Environmental Conservation have flowed almost as fast as the waters of the Allegheny River.

Now, those problems warrant a mandatory fix.

When hard rain falls and the water flows into the drain toward the treatment plant, a large amount of the water bypasses the entire system and flows into the river, untreated.

State officials say that is unacceptable. In the mid-2000s, the DEC determined that a remedy had to be found that would treat the water before it flows into the Allegheny, said Tom Windus, city public works director.

“We in the Public Works Department developed a comprehensive plan as to how to fix the problems with the plant in 2006,” he said.

But communication between the city and the state seemed to fall through until finally, in 2010, Windus was notified that the plans were not adequate and would have to be revised.

Communication from DEC officials “was coming in saying they wanted to work on getting the problems figured out,” Windus said. “I responded by telling them I was ready and willing to meet to get this fixed. It didn’t happen for quite some time.”

Now, renovations to more efficiently deal with the wastewater and bring the plant into compliance with state and federal regulations will cost the city about $20 million, Windus said.

The project would fix the bypassing problem and treat the water, but also might offer residents of the city’s west end some relief from the odor that has plagued them for years.

“We have gone to other plants to see how their systems work, and have found that they have different ways of masking the odors of treating wastewater,” Windus said. “One of the things we are looking at is installation of fixed covers over the tanks at the facility, as opposed to the floating covers now.” The fixed covers would contain the odors much better, he said.

Other possibilities could include spraying a deodorizer around the facility.

“We have seen these kinds of things at other places, and they seem to work rather well,” Windus said.

The cost of the project would have to be bonded and would most likely increase water and sewer rates in the city, Windus said. But that process depends on approval of the remediation plan by state officials. If approval is granted soon, the project could be bid and construction could start around 2015 and be completed in 2016, he said.