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Town looking for potions to pre-treating sewage
7/20/2007 By: Carole McWilliams
Bayfield town and sanitation district officials are once again having to re-think solutions to overloading at the town sewage treatment plant.
Town and sanitation board members held a special joint meeting on July 12, faced with much higher than expected costs for some businesses and the school district to reduce the strength of sewage they put into the system.
The sewer district signed a consent agreement with the state in May that included a Sept. 3 deadline to get high load customers into compliance. The district set its own deadlines earlier.
Identified high load customers were supposed to have pre-treatment systems installed by the end of June, although there was a provision for customers to make alternative arrangements. No one met the end of June deadline.
“I don’t want to be in the sewer treatment business,” longtime Bayfield businessman Vern Sower told the boards last week. His Aspen Plaza complex, which has several food businesses, was one of the sewer customers ordered to reduce sewage strength.
“I want to work with the town and the district,” Sower said. “It’s extremely difficult to put in a pre-treatment system in a parking lot that has gas tanks in. It’s extremely hard to meet this deadline. We jumped right on it and we aren’t there, and we aren’t going to be there.”
Sower said he’d rather pay the money to the town and district for more sewer plant capacity to handle organic loading.
School Superintendent Don Magill said, “We are dealing with taxpayer dollars. When we first started looking at this, we were looking at $100,000 to $125,000” to install pre-treatment at the elementary, middle and high schools.
The district planned to have the systems installed before school starts in August.
“We thought constituents would understand” the need for that cost, Magill said. “Now we are up to $300,000 to $330,000. That will buy us seven to 10 classroom teachers. We don’t have a third of a million dollars. We squeezed the $100,000 to $125,000 into the budget. It’s the tightest it’s been in several years.”
The school district is looking for grants, he said.
Steamworks owner Kris Oyler said installing pre-treatment “breaks down to time and money. The deadlines were extremely compacted. I don’t know if we could have put one in in a year, let alone five months.”
Oyler continued, “We are looking at $200,000 just to treat our effluent where it is now (current size of operation), not counting any expansion. From a cost standpoint, it’s very cost prohibitive for us to even consider this.”
He advised, “If we can get some grants, we should be able to do something that will benefit the business, the town, the community.” He cited a system that recovers methane that could be used.
“We need time and money to make this work,” Oyler said. “We are committed to Bayfield, and we want to stay.”
Mack Coker bought the Riverside RV Park in May 2006. “We wouldn’t have bought it if we had gotten the truth” about sewer district issues, he said. “But we are here and we are part of the community, and we plan to stay.”
He is farther along on installing pre-treatment than any of the other high load customers ordered to reduce loading. The RV park loading is concentrated human waste, while all the others are food-related.
Coker objected, “Some of the deadlines to meet other people’s guidelines will be difficult or impossible to meet. We may have the best chance. Our tanks are in the ground. Our cost will exceed $30,000. We can’t get people to do what we need to do.”
He added, “It’s not just these four entities. The cost will continue to rise” as other sewer customers get orders to reduce excessive loading.
Sewer board member Brad Elder previously objected that the high load customers are costing the district an extra $1 million in a new treatment plant to deal with unusually high strength sewage. But on July 12, he asked, “Do we do a number of disparate systems around town, or do we do something else?”
Town and district manager Justin Clifton said, “The burning question is how to distribute the cost burden. … Everyone thought pre-treatment would be much cheaper and much easier. The numbers indicate we should look at other options. The load reduction, for what it would cost, we need to re-think that.”
Engineer Jim Flint suggested one large pre-treatment system instead of a bunch of separate units.
Clifton said that’s “one of many viable options.”
He worried that the new treatment plant is being designed to handle 1,585 pounds per day of organic loading. The current lagoons have repeatedly been over their 600 pounds-per-day permit limit for organic load in incoming sewage.
“I don’t think we can do any more than (1,585 pounds per day) without breaking everybody’s back,” Clifton said. “But unless we reduce some of this loading, we are at 1,200 pounds, already planning for a new plant” on top of the plant now being designed.
The state requires planning for expansion when a plant reaches 80 percent of permit capacity, and actual construction when a plant hits 95 percent of permit capacity. Neither of those happened with the current aeration lagoons, prompting the state to issue a cease and desist order in late March 2006.
“No one knew (loading) was this bad until we started getting test results” a year ago, Clifton said.
Town trustee Daryl Yost said, “One plant makes more sense than all these little plants. Now most of the board members are re-thinking this. The treatment should happen at the treatment plant.”
He also worried that the separate systems will have to be maintained.
Coker added, “We already have our tanks in the ground. We anticipate being fully functional. But the other entities, their costs alone are almost three-quarter million dollars. Centralization is the way to do it.”
The two boards went into closed session to discuss all this as “items subject to negotiation.”
Clifton said both boards then approved a motion “to continue to seek pre-treatment options with the identified high loaders, but to seek something reasonable and cost-effective.”
He indicated that could include things like buying plant capacity if it is cheaper than pre-treatment, or the businesses pooling resources to get grant money for pre-treatment.
Clifton said the boards also approved a motion to seek a firm qualified to do a sophisticated rate study so costs of sewer system improvements can be fair.
The town faces another state cease and desist order, and a halt to issuing new building permits, if Sept. 3 compliance deadlines aren’t met. The town and district will have to seek amendments to the consent order signed with the state in May to reflect any changes in achieving reduced organic loading from the high load customers, Clifton said.
The need to seek amendments reflects that some of the requirements imposed by the state weren’t realistic in the first place, he said.
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