Press-Republican

June 2, 2013

Essex has stealth treatment plant

LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

---- — ESSEX — Passing a barn with a quaint farmhouse beside it, no one would guess those structures conceal the Town of Essex’s cutting-edge Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The $11.7 million facility, with its tracking solar array, doesn’t even look like a sewage plant from nearby Route 22.

“The barn is where the treatment process occurs, using a sequencing batch-reactor to treat the sewage,” Essex Town Supervisor Sharon Boisen said.

“An ultraviolet light provides a final level of disinfection prior to the discharge back to Lake Champlain.”

The award-winning plant produces its own power to process the town’s wastewater using state-of-the-art treatment systems.

HONORED FOR DESIGN

The facility won the Adirondack Park Excellence In Design Competition in the Public and Semi-Public Buildings category this year. The annual multi-agency award was given to Boisen at the Local Government Day conference in Lake Placid.

Most people driving by the plant catch only a glimpse of what they were expecting to see anyway in a historic Adirondack community like Essex, Boisen said.

“Visitors have no idea how this barn and farmhouse are affecting the beautiful lake that’s just a quarter mile in front of you.”

She said the farmhouse-style structure houses a laboratory, aeration equipment, chemical-treatment equipment, automatic-sampling equipment, pumps, piping, an emergency generator and an office full of computerized control equipment.

SOLAR SAVINGS

Plant Operator Tina Gardner presides over all this, even controlling some functions and getting equipment alarms from a smart phone she carries at all times.

“We generate the power to run the plant. All the pumps are on variable speed drives to save energy. The blowers have auto-shutoff so they don’t run constantly.”

She said that before the solar array — which is both roof- and ground-mounted — was installed, they had a $1,000 electric bill one month.

“The solar panels saved a lot. We had a 79-cent power bill one month now.”

REED BEDS

At one side of the plant, reed beds filter some of the wastewater.

“The reed beds remove the metals, move solids,” Gardner said. “The reeds help break it down. It’ll be 10 years here before we (have to) remove the sludge from the reed beds.”

The plant has permitting for 65,000 gallons a day, she said, but normally processes about 15,000 gallons in the summer and 8,000 in the winter when fewer people are in town.

COMMUNITY INPUT

The entire facility was designed by AES Northeast of Plattsburgh, which, Boisen said, did a terrific job.

James Dougan, business and construction manager of AES Northeast, said his firm knew the facility had to reflect Essex itself.

“The plant needed to fit into the community, be as low-cost as possible to run and still effectively treat the town’s sewage during both the busy summer months and very slow winter months,” he said by email.

“The town board and many, many, town residents were heavily invested and involved in this project from start to finish, and many of the meetings held were filled with spirited discussion as all involved worked hard to get a project that met the community’s overall needs.”

LOCAL DESIGN

Dougan said they’re very pleased at AES that Essex got the award.

“We continue to be thankful to the town for trusting our firm to assist them in completing a much-needed project.”

The town is fortunate that much of the cost of the wastewater system was funded by the state and federal governments, Boisen said.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development gave the town $3.6 million in a federal stimulus grant and $1 million in a long-term loan, the State Environmental Facilities Corp. awarded $5.3 million in federal stimulus money and a $900,000 loan, and the town received $1 million from the State Department of Environmental Conservation discretionary fund and $500,000 from the State Environmental Clean Water-Clean Air Bond Act.

After several years of planning, the facility was built and opened in 2011. It serves almost 150 users.

SPECIAL NEEDS

Boisen said high organic loading in Lake Champlain from individual septic systems in Essex has been a concern for a very long time. Essex is built on a rock and blue-clay base, she said, which was not effective for treating sewage with conventional systems.

“Having a municipal wastewater treatment facility makes a major impact in reducing the amount of blue-green algae blooms.”

The plant is a marvel, she said.

“The wastewater plant is highly insulated for energy efficiency; it has both photovoltaic and solar hot water to reduce energy cost. The plant is operated by a computer system that allows the operator to view what is happening through an Internet connection, and it can be monitored 24 hours a day.”

One thing no one wanted was a plant with an industrial design, Boisen said.

“It exemplifies what those of us who live within the Adirondack Park strive for — a sense of history in our neighborhoods — while containing all the technology to be as current and as efficient as possible.”

Email Lohr McKinstry:lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com