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Sue Bush
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Hustle And Flow: Pownal Wastewater Treatment Facility

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pownal Wastewater Treatment Center Chief Operator Darcy Pruden checks a ph balance at the new facility laboratory.
Pownal, Vt. - There were years of hustle to get the flow, and that work was recognized during a rain-soaked but upbeat Sept. 23 celebration and open house at the brand-new Dean Road town wastewater treatment facility.

"I'm Impressed"

Hoosic River Watershed Association Board of Directors member Tom Ennis was among those who participated in a facility tour.

"This is a good facility," Ennis said. "This seems to have high quality equipment, and did you notice there is no smell? They've done a great job and I'm impressed."

The facility does not use any chemicals or chlorine to treat the sewage. Biology and ultraviolet lights play major roles in treating and disinfecting incoming substances before the material is sent out to the river.

The treatment facility was built at a cost of about $5.2 million and is part of the town's under-construction, nearly $29 million sewer project. About 80 of the anticipated 470 customers have been connected to the system; officials of the project's engineering firm, Forcier Aldrich & Associates predicted that the project will reach completion during 2010.

The projected completion date is contingent upon delivery of additional and expected federal funding, said Brad Aldrich, vice-president of the engineering firm.

Unheard Of In This Day And Age

Forcier Aldrich & Associates main design engineer Wayne Elliot and Selectmen's Chairman Nelson Brownell; Forcier Aldrich officials presented Brownell with a shovel used during a 2004 ground-breaking ceremony.
Town taxpayers are expected to foot the bill for a $2 million U.S. Department of Agriculture/Rural Development loan that was voter approved in 2001.

The remaining 92 percent of the project costs are being met through federal and state grant revenues, including $12.5 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, $1.5 million in state Community Development Program grants, $9.2 million in state department of Environmental Conservation grants, $3.6 million in USDA/Rural Development grants, $300,000 in state special legislative grants, and $150,000 from town coffers.

"The taxpayers are paying back eight percent of the costs, that's unheard of in this day and age," said Aldrich.

Those who are connected to the system will pay about $400 per year for the service, Aldrich said.

Let's Hook Up

The facility is permitted to discharge 260,000 gallons of disinfected effluent into the Hoosic River daily. Currently, less than that is passing through the facility because the majority of the expected users have not connected to the system.

Aldrich said that the school is expected to connect to the new system in about two weeks. By the end of this year's construction season, about 103 North Pownal users will be connected, Aldrich said, and users who live in Pownal Center to the school property are also expected to be connected this year.

Certain areas of Pownal Village and the Oak Hill Road area may not be connected until spring, he added.

Beginning in 2007, the Jackson Cross Road area will be connected to the system and remaining sections of the village area are expected to be connected during 2008 and 2009, depending upon the federal funding delivery, Aldrich said.

Daughter-And-Father Team At Facility Helm

The facility's chief operator is Darcy Pruden; Pruden is certified at the required Class 4 operations level. She will work with help from her father, Carl Dickinson, a long-time employee of the Hoosac Water Quality District, which operates a wastewater treatment facility in Williamstown,Mass..

Pruden is a former assistant operator at the Williamstown facility. Pruden was hired as a full-time town employee at $19 an hour and with benefits such as vacation and health insurance; Dickinson was hired as a part-time contracted consultant at $20 per worked hour and no benefits, said town Selectmen Chairman Nelson Brownell.

The father-and-daughter team are expected to be the only employees of the system.

Pruden's duties will include system monitoring, sample testing, responding to any alarms and alerts and some practical labors such as snowplowing, lawn-cutting, and cleaning.

Award-Winning Project

The American Council of Engineering honored the project with two awards; a master planning award was presented in 2002 and a special projects award was presented in 2004. Among the unique facility designs is a wick drain, which was built beneath a lagoon area that was included as part of the Pownal Tannery EPA Superfund clean-up site.

The "under-drain design" is not commonly used at projects such as the town facility, said Terry Schaefer, a construction inspector for the engineering firm.

Forcier Aldrich construction inspector Paul Schaefer delivered a site tour to a media member and explained many of the facility functions.

"It's a good re-use of a super fund site," said Brownell.

The overall project was designed to minimize sprawl and build-out, Brownell said, and he emphasized that the project has met that goal.

"This plan takes out the pollution and eliminates the sprawl," he said.

Other examples of unique engineering include boring across parts of Route 7 rather than digging from the surface, which reduced numerous disruptions, Brownell and Schaefer said.

"We also bored under the river [to erect a temporary bridge] without bothering the fish," said Schaefer.

The project will award a total of 10 contracts and secure revenue from 11 anticipated funding sources before its' completion.

"It's been an excellent job of balancing funding, meeting criteria, and keeping costs down," said Schaefer.

Initial estimates put the project price tag at about $18 million but skyrocketing material costs contributed significantly to an upward, consistent cost climb. Despite the cost increases, as of Sept. 23, the taxpayer burden has not increased, Aldrich noted.

The "Brains" Of The Outfit

The facility is designed with state-of-the art technologies and monitoring systems designed to inform and alert Pruden about system operations when she is at the site and, through a laptop computer, when she is off-site.

Computer technology is essential to the system, said Schaefer.

"Everything reports to this computer," he said while escorting a media member on a facility tour. "Everything can be adjusted through this computer. This computer is the brains of the outfit."

A 1,000-gallon diesel-powered generator was installed as a back-up power source and has the capability to power the center for up to one week on one tank of fuel, depending on operating power levels, Schaefer said.

A variety of tests and processes can be accomplished at an on-site laboratory. For instance, tests for sediment and solids in the inflow and the effluent [the treated liquid leaving the facility] may be done on the premises, and samples must also be submitted to state testing sites as well as independent laboratories, Schaefer said. Off-site testing provides assurance that contaminants are not being dumped into the river.

"Happy Bugs Eat Sewage Like Crazy"

A sample of effluent after complete treatment at the wastewater facility. The sample represents the expected appearance of what is discharged into the Hoosic River from the facility.
"Bugs" are cultivated at the site for the sole purpose of eating sewage. Identified as rotifers, the microscopic organisms thrive in an environment of 1 to 3 milligrams per liter of oxygen, said Schaefer.

"That's what keeps the bugs happy, and happy bugs eat sewage like crazy," he said.

The oxygen is introduced to the areas hosting the "bugs" via high volume/low pressure blowers.

A security system is in place at the treatment facility.

Facility Features

Prior to release from the treatment facility, all effluent passes beneath high-intensity ultra violet lights. There are 30 bulbs in the system and the light kills bacteria in about one second, Schaefer said. The bulbs must be cleaned periodically, and that task falls to Pruden, he said. A spare set of UV lights are used when cleaning is taking place.

The facility treats the inflow in "batches." Each batch requires about 4.8 hours of treatment, Schaefer said.

Additional facility features include an "explosion-proof" room which is one of the initial points of inflow, a sonar measuring system that measures facility inflow and output, "sniffers" that detect any flammable substances or gasses, a solids separation system, a fully-automated effluent sample collector and an effluent wier.

The effluent weir is among the most important components of the facility, Schaefer said.

"It's key for knowing what's going out; it's how they fix the fee on how much is being sent out to the river," Schaefer said.

Facility Fees

The fee is paid to the state and is calculated into the system customer fee, he added.

Sludge will be kept in aerated sludge holding tanks and shipped to a Bennington, Vt. wastewater treatment plant and used for that facility's compost operation. Bennington will be paid a fee to accept the sludge.

As part of state regulations, a septage holding tank is also built at the site. The holding tank can accept 1,000 gallons per day, and may be used by those who are operating residential septic systems and require pumping. Under state law, anyone in the state may use the holding tank and all tank users pay the same fee, Schaefer said.

Project Moving Pownal In The Right Direction

Several state, local, and project officials offered remarks during an 11:30 a.m. speaking portion of the open house. Brownell read a congratulatory letter from U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy. The Hoosic River is among the project's beneficiaries, he added.

"I think Pownal is moving in the right environmental direction," he said.

State Sen. Richard Sears credited former Pownal state Rep. Allan Palmer and current Rep. William "Bill" Botzow for their efforts in generating state interest and securing funding for the project.

"It wasn't easy but we did it," Sears said.

Botzow noted the community will be much improved by the project.

"This community created a ball and now we all get to run with it," he said. "This is a tool for better health, to clean up the river, to make the community better."

The project will mean improved opportunities for affordable housing and new business development, he said.

Botzow termed the town Select Board as "one of the hardest working boards we've ever worked with." he thanked town residents for patience and cooperation.

"You've put up with a lot," he said.

Aldrich presented Brownell with a shovel used during a 2004 ground-breaking ceremony.

Additional speakers included Larry Fitch, director of the facilities engineering division of the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Justus Taylor, a former member of the Pownal Tannery Superfund Clean-Up Site Re-use Committee.

The project general contractors are: U.W. Marx Construction Company, which led construction of the wastewater treatment facility, Petricca Construction, which led sewer, forcemain, and pump station construction, and Zaluzny Excavating Corp..

When completed, the project will host 11 pump stations, 10 grind stations, 125,000 feet of gravity sewer, 47,000 feet of gravity house services, and 41,000 feet of forcemain.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.
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