Sewage overflow in Buckley, Illinois, residents' yards will soon be a thing of the past.
Fehr Graham helped the 600-person community 38 miles north of Champaign secure a $5 million grant from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to end its unsewered status and build a sanitary sewer system. Grant funding of more than $21 million will help Buckley and five other Illinois communities construct wastewater collection and/or treatment systems.
Like many small communities, the Village in southwestern Iroquois County faced funding challenges that made citizens wonder whether a sewer system would ever be possible.
Part of the reason for Buckley's success was that in May 2021, Fehr Graham helped land a $30,000 planning grant. That money allowed the Village to hire Fehr Graham to identify solutions to its wastewater collection and treatment needs. Engineers prepared a Facility Plan, Project Summary and Preliminary Environmental Impact Determination Statement – all required to apply for Illinois EPA funding.
Although engineering consultant costs are State Revolving Fund (SRF)-eligible, money isn't released until the project is designed. That type of funding is difficult for small communities because they need to pay consultants for the design and bidding and wait for the SRF loan to reimburse them. The EPA grant gave Buckley upfront money to complete the design and bidding. The Illinois EPA pays as work is completed, removing a tremendous hurdle to move the project forward.
Scott Shockley is in his second term as Buckley's Village President. With a single employee, he often helps – digging holes and attempting to repair water and sewer lines. Without sanitary sewers, improperly treated waste is discharged into ditches and creeks, causing harsh odors and eliciting complaints among citizens.
He said he was relieved when he learned Buckley got the grant.
"We know if we're going to build Buckley back, we have to have a foundation," Shockley said. "This has been a long process but we're moving in the right direction."
Shockley said at least half of Buckley residents have septic tanks – and few function properly. A few inches of rain can cause backups. When septic leach fields don't work as they should, wastewater pools into yards. The Illinois Department of Public Health has issued numerous warnings to property owners for discharging improperly treated wastewater onto their neighbors' properties.
Some septic tanks have failed and more are expected to fail as they age, which could leave homes uninhabitable and potentially force the Village to pay for property demolition. Some Buckley residents wondered what would happen to their homes. The socio-economic and environmental issues became too much for the Village to address on its own.
Residents were skeptical at first, but Shockley said Fehr Graham Senior Project Manager Larry Johnson helped coordinate informational meetings to help explain the process, ask questions and give feedback. Johnson has worked with Buckley for more than four decades.
We wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for Fehr Graham. It wouldn’t have gotten done. Larry’s been with me – I’ve known him 12 years – and all I have to do is call and he’s right there."
Scott Shockley, Village President
Fehr Graham's mission is to improve the quality of life in the communities where clients live and work, and the firm strives to do that each day. Millions of dollars have been secured to help Illinois communities like Freeport, Elkhart and Pesotum improve infrastructure.
According to the Illinois EPA, there are more than 200 Illinois communities that are unsewered. There is funding available for planning and construction. Fehr Graham provides the tools and resources to give communities an edge for competitive funding, but interested clients must start the process now.