EAST PEORIA — Sixteen years in the planning, the East Peoria City Council on Tuesday approved spending $36.6 million for a sewer system overhaul that customers have already begun to pay for with increased user fees.

"It's time we quit kicking this down the road and get this project started," said Mayor John Kahl. "(The existing system) is at the end of its useful life, and if we wait any longer, the costs will only continue to rise."

In its first full meeting, the newly seated council of new mayor Kahl and three new commissioners accepted the $36.6 million bid of Williams Brothers Construction by a 5-0 vote. Williams Brothers, of Peoria Heights, was the lowest of three bidders.

The approval comes ahead of an almost certainly more expensive mandate from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to fix a system that is almost 90 years old in places and beyond repair. It consists of rebuilding the city's two wastewater treatment plants and constructing 11,000 feet of force main that will even out the capacity of both plants. A fourth phase, at an estimated additional cost of $20 million, is on hold awaiting new environmental regulations.

"It is necessary, and I am glad to be finally getting it underway," said Commissioner Dan Decker, who has been part of the discussion of the sewer system upgrade for all 12 years he has served on the council.

The city has been approved for a $57 million loan from the IEPA that will be paid back over 20 years by increased user fees. Customers are in the third of five years of annual increases of 20%, 15%, 11%, 11% and 10%. The additional money is needed to pay for engineering expenses, auxiliary costs and the costs of the fourth phase. 

Construction on the first three phases, to be done concurrently, could begin as early as July. The entire project could take three years to complete, according to Pat Sheridan of the Farnsworth Group, the Peoria company hired to design and engineer the project. Though the bid was higher than anticipated, he told the council that it was reflective of what it will cost to do the project.

"There's no value in re-bidding it. There is zero fluff (in the proposal)," Sheridan said. "(The bid) is the machines, the tanks, the concrete and the reactors, all the basic stuff needed to run a wastewater plant."

Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at shilyard@pjstar.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.