When the “S” doesn’t hit the fan
Mechanical failures could lead to costly sewer plant repairs for town
WHITINGHAM- Several officials from the state of Vermont came to the Whitingham Selectboard Wednesday evening to address repairs and upgrades to the sewer system that have become urgent due to what selectboard member Greg Brown called “major mechanical failures” at the Jacksonville plant.
Notably those failures meant that the rotating biological contactor (RBC) fans broke down and triggered an emergency shutdown.
Design engineer Robert Pelosi, of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, noted that he was “amazed that everything has lasted as long it has,” referring to the sewer plant apparatus, particularly the RBC.
David DiCantio, sewer plant chief operator, said that the RBC would have to be dragged out and a crane used to install a new one.
Thomas Brown, leader of the DEC water infrastructure financing program, discussed the purpose of the asset management grant that is separate from state revolving funds. His main role is to review all the planning and design and the town would need his approval to be eligible for construction funds.
Greg Brown asked if these funds could address current conditions at the Jacksonville plant. Brown responded that there is emergency funding available but it would not be fast funding. “Our fund would be for the future date.”
DiCantio said that when the RBC started to fail, repairs were made and the facility is now operational but limited to 75% capacity. Dicantio also noted that three-quarters of the RBC needs replacement.
Greg Brown said that “One (filter) media pack, we’re into $30,000,” adding his concern with changing the other three media that are currently working. “Engineering needs to come in and look at options, including revamping the plant possibly in line with a 20-year evaluation, which is required by current permit.”
Thomas Brown said that short-term funding may take two to five years. “Our program,” he said, “is not equipped for short-term action, due to federal guidelines in play because of needing federal money.” He added that looking for $30,000 doesn’t make sense for his office or Whitingham’s needs. If looking for major money needed for overhaul of both plants, then his division could help.
DiCantio wanted to know if there was funding through the asset management plan to pay for preliminary engineering. Gianetti replied that the state prevents his division from approving a design without the engineering report.
Pelosi added, “Capital improvement would qualify (for funding) because equipment would be at the end of its useful life.”
DiCantio said the plant is running now but Mountain Machine Works needs to provide a written plan with pictures, and that hasn’t happened yet.
Nick Gianetti, Vermont environmental analyst, said his office is waiting for the town to propose some plans with dates for phase completion. He also said that the plant could operate at 75% until “You are violating your permit (by discharging untreated wastewater), then we could get you on a schedule to replace the media.”
DiCantio noted that Mountain Machine has the replacement parts on order. Thomas Brown reiterated that a thorough asset management plan would be instrumental in securing funding.
Pelosi said that facility plan approval gives the town five years to decide on a design. Greg Brown said that not all the media need replacing right away. But Pelosi said, “They can’t just replace a part of it. The brackets are good but will need to be replaced because they are not compatible with the new media.”
DiCantio said that a plan is coming from Mountain Machine. Gianetti said it was the town’s obligation to respond to report recommendations. Pelosi said he would send a list of what the preliminary engineering reports must include to the selectboard office.
Pelosi said the town was obligated to advertise for an engineer and make a selection based on qualifications. He cautioned that the town cannot discuss price until a decision is made on the best qualified engineer. The engineer’s report is then scrutinized for environmental impact. There are three funds required: planning, design, and construction, all of which would ultimately result in a 30-year term loan at 2% interest.
It was noted that trucking and disposal has already cost over $20,000 and those costs will continue. In two weeks Sullivan is expected to return and inspect both plants. The ultimate cost to overhaul both plants is expected to cost in the $1 million range.
DiCantio asked, “If all media needs to be replaced, we still need an engineer to write up what they’ve already told us?”
Gianetti replied in the affirmative and brought up the need for redundancy: for example, identifying spare parts that are key to running the facility.
The group went on to discuss timelines and cost options, including grants, subsidies, and the previously mentioned low-interest loan. In the meantime, Greg Brown said, “Trucking (untreated wastewater) is killing us.”
Gianetti re-stated his bottom line, “I need a plan from you guys.” DiCantio said he would put that together as soon as possible.