WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — On Tuesday, the Wichita City Council voted on a measure that will eventually get rid of most of the sewage odor that plagues south Wichita, but it won’t happen immediately.

The Council voted on funding for the Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) Program.

“The solution that’s been identified will reduce the odor by 98%, which is pretty significant,” City Manager Robert Layton said.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is offering Wichita a loan through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) to pay for 49% of the cost of BNR. The City already has a WIFIA loan to help pay for the new Northwest Water Treatment Facility.

“This is the second WIFIA loan that we’ve received,” Layton said. “That doesn’t happen very often.”

“I’ve never been more jazzed to talk about a sewage treatment plant than I am now,” Wichita Vice Mayor Mike Hoheisel said.

He thanked City staff, the City finance team, and Public Works and Utilities for their work on the project and for taking the public’s concerns and fitting them into the plan.

“I believe the odor that we have plaguing south Wichita is going to be one of the first things that this project is going to address,” Hoheisel said. “If you live south of Kellogg, you’ve lived with this as long as you’ve lived south of Kellogg.”

Council Member Jeff Blubaugh agreed.

“I remember when I was a kid, and on the rare occasion, we got to go to Joyland. I knew we were getting close to Joyland because you could smell Plant 2,” he said. “This is something that’s been much needed and decades past due.”

“As a south-sider, as someone who drives to work every day and does notice the odor, a 98% reduction in that odor is very important, particularly since other parts of our community don’t have to be bothered by such an odor,” Mayor Brandon Whipple said. “Air quality matters regardless of where you are in the city, so this is going to be a huge step forward to ensure that south Wichita has the same air quality regarding smell as other areas.”

The City is working with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) on a loan to pay for another 47% of the BNR cost. It would come from the State of Kansas Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF). The City will pay the remaining 4% of BNR’s cost from sewer utility cash or revenue bonds.

Penny Feist, the assistant director of Public Works, gave the Council a timeline for the project.

  • This winter and early spring, the City is negotiating with the KDHE for the SRF loan, and BNR designs are being detailed and finalized.
  • This spring and summer, the SRF loan agreement will go to the City Council for approval, and construction contractors will be procured through six separate bid packages.
  • In the summer, the City will begin demolition and take the basins out of service to prepare for the construction.
  • Construction is expected to begin this fall and wrap up late in 2027.

The City says the benefits of a WIFIA loan are flexible financing terms. The loan allows the City to build up revenue over time to fund the project instead of trying to fund it all at once.

The EPA estimates the loan will save the City about $89 million compared to a typical issuance through the capital market.

The legal process for the WIFIA loan involves the approval of the City Council. The Council unanimously approved it Tuesday and must vote on it again next week during the second reading.

After that, the interest rate will be set on March 17 and inserted into the WIFIA Credit Agreement along with the repayment schedule. The City expects the interest rate will be around 3.92%. The estimated first payment would be due April 1, 2032, and the estimated final payment would be due Oct. 1, 2061.

The final step is the Kansas attorney general has to validate the WIFIA credit agreement. That is expected to happen this April.

“I just want us to pause for a second and actually celebrate this,” Layton said. “This is a legacy project for the community and specifically for this Council … You’ve now positioned the City for the future in both water treatment and sewage treatment, and, as I said, we’re addressing some serious problems, and it truly is leaving a longtime legacy for the community.”

In addition to thanking City staff and departments, Layton thanked the EPA and the State of Kansas for being great partners. He also credited Council Members for laying the groundwork for the loan during their trips to Washington, D.C.

To learn more about Wichita’s BNR program, click here.