DPW: OMI jumped on Norwalk sewage plant trouble

Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord listens
Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord listens to Lailani Metzler of Arcadis at Monday’s Water Pollution Control Authority meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. – The “heart” of Norwalk’s sewage treatment plant was 90 percent non-functional when an outside inspector came to visit in April, according to an account given at Monday’s Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) meeting.

Nine of 10 mixers in the plant’s aeration system weren’t working in an inspection done in April, said Lailani Metzler of Arcadis, who said she has been inspecting the plant every year since 2001. Metzler referred to the aeration system as “the heart of the plant.” She also referred to other problems, without elaborating except for references to pump stations.

“It was a little bit out of the ordinary this year when we walked through the plant,” Metzler said. “It was an anomaly in our book. The plant has for many years has excelled both in treatment of in condition. So it was a little bit of a difference for us to see various systems in disrepair.”

“We literally had a system failure,” said Kevin Dahl, regional business manager for CH2MHill/OMI, the company that manages the plant, to authority members. “I agree with you, that should have been found before that situation was discovered the way it was. We apologized for it and jumped right on it… It was really a failure between some departments in the way they communicate. We have changed that process.”

Pressed, he said, “Some people knew about it. It wasn’t effectively communicated. … The operator noticed it wasn’t working and didn’t log it in the system.”

“We did get OMI engaged immediately and we were happy to have them come through and do such a thorough examination of all the processes,” Department of Public Works Operations Manager Lisa Burns said. “To their credit, they brought in a number of outside resources to address things quickly.”

Metzler stressed that the inspections are always a “snapshot,” that capture the conditions on a particular day, when things might have been working just fine the week before. OMI jumped right on fixing the critical systems, she said.

Burns said there are things that haven’t been fixed yet, but, “All the critical systems are operating properly. It’s more the things we don’t need anymore.” Those are the “back ups to the back ups,” she said.

An CH2M/OMI employee was sacked over this, it was said.

“You are also now looking for a new maintenance manager, of a higher level,” Burns said. “So they are really reorganizing to probably bring better group of resources to the project. We still have some kinks to work out but nothing that affects the plant’s performance, process or the environment.”

Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E), a WPCA member, asked how critical the failures had been. Metzler said, “The rate of change is longer term. So you really don’t see the long term effects until the accident or the event has already occurred. So as of April the system was still holding up.”

The ensuing conversation focused on the state’s Nitrogen Credit Trading Program, from which in most years the city makes money by getting good test results on the amount of nitrogen in the effluent and then selling the “credits” to other communities, according to DPW Director Hal Alvord. Some years Norwalk has to pay, he said. He thought it was $35,000 one year, he said.

One of the complications with the program is that every year the state lowers the amount of acceptable nitrogen, Alvord said. “We knew this year was going to be close,” he said.

McCarthy narrowed down the impact of the failures as being “minimal.”

Metzler said pump stations are inspected at least once every three years. As a result of the inspection, the Keeler Brook pump station will be fixed next year instead of the Fort Point pumping station, Burns said.

On Wednesday, Alvord said Metzler inspects the plant multiple times a year.  “OMI had losses of people, turnover in staff,” Alvord said. “There were some things that should have been communicated that didn’t get communicated.”

But staff had been aware of the problems before the inspection, he said.

“We were aware of that,” Alvord said. “We had been working – they had come in and done some visits on some other some things. So Lisa and Ralph (Kolb) and their staff had started working with OMI on that. They knew there were some personnel issues that were taking place there.”


3 responses to “DPW: OMI jumped on Norwalk sewage plant trouble”

  1. Non Partisan Voter

    This is really pathetic – the “heart” of our sewage treatment plant wasn’t working and our own city management and the vendor we outsourced the management of the plant to, was not even aware of it. When you outsource a function, the city staff is still responsible for making sure the vendor is doing its job. Since they knew that there were staffing issues, the DPW staff should have been out there and been monitoring things. Maybe we could outsource our DPW department to Stamford or some other city that knows what they are doing.

  2. Don’t Panic

    November 11, 2003
    NORWALK — A significant reshuffling of personnel overseeing the city’s wastewater treatment plant was announced last night by Operations Management International.
    In what was described to members of the city’s Water Pollution Control Authority as a “lateral move,” OMI is reassigning plant manager Fred Treffeisen to a regional position. OMI is the private company that runs the plant.
    Treffeisen helped run the plant prior to privatization in 2000, and was then hired by OMI. He was not present at last night’s meeting.
    None of the OMI officials attributed the changes to the well-publicized operational problems the plant has suffered this year, but Mayor Alex Knopp welcomed Treffeisen’s departure.
    Last fall, the plant was raided by the Environmental Protection Agency as part of an ongoing criminal probe.
    In the spring, the plant suffered several wet-weather related spills into the Norwalk River of nonhazardous sewage and sewage-treatment material. Raw sewage was dumped into Wilson Cove during the August blackout from one of the plant’s pumping stations.
    April 2008
    Norwalk is pumping too much nitrogen into the sound and $144 million is needed to upgrade the plant. The Hour reports: – See more at: http://www.yourct.com/2008/04/norwalk-wastewater-treatment-plant-upgrades/#sthash.iESS42df.dpuf
    According to Mayor Richard A. Moccia, the plant upgrade is unavoidable and the cost to be borne by residential sewer users is mitigated by others measures taken by the WPCA.
    “The problem is we are under mandate by the Department of Environmental Protection to upgrade (the plant), to continue to clean up the sound. We have certain mandates for nitrogen removal. We don’t have much choice,” Moccia said.
    Director of Public Works Harold F. Alvord cited the state’s nitrogen credit trading program as reason to upgrade the plant.
    In 2002, the DEP started an incentive program to reduce nitrogen in the Long Island Sound, rewarding municipalities that meet requirements and penalizing those that don’t. An excess of nitrogen in the water spurs the growth of algae, which consume oxygen, causing the death of other marine life.
    “We’re now in a deficit position when it comes to the nitrogen credit trading program. We’re going to be paying for trading credits now,” Alvord said. And “we’re at a point now where the headworks is in pretty tough shape, and we’ve got the support of the DEP right now to the tune of $34 million. So they understand the critical (nature) of the project and they’re backing it.”
    Oct 2008
    The Water Pollution Control Authority on Monday backed issuing $45 million in bonds for Phase One of the city’s wastewater treatment plant upgrade.
    Timely action is required for the city to be reimbursed through the Clean Water Fund program, according to Mayor Richard A. Moccia, a member of the WPCA.
    “This appropriation must be in place before the city can apply for Clean Water Fund grants and low-interest loans that will be used to finance most or all of the $45-million upgrade project,” wrote Moccia in a memorandum to various approval bodies. “Phase One of this project involves the construction of a new headworks/main lift pump station and improvements to the wet weather treatment process.”
    The authority approved a resolution calling for issuance of the bonds following a public hearing at which no one spoke, according to Fred Wilms, WPCA member and Board of Estimate and Taxation chairman. The Planning Commission, Board of Estimate and Common Council have yet to vote on the bond issuance resolution.
    Clean Water Fund dollars would pay for $38.8 million of Phase One, which is slated to begin next year and take about 18 months to complete. Capital budget dollars would cover the remaining $6.2 million, according to Harold F. Alvord, the city’s director of public works.
    The first phase of the $37 million Wastewater Treatment Plant in Norwalk, Connecticut which includes main lift pumping and grit and screens removal in order to treat a peak flow of up to 90 million gallons per day recently broke ground.
    The new facility will also provide improved treatment for the extraneous flow the plant receives during wet weather events and once completed, the Norwalk WPCF will be a leader in the state of Connecticut’s goal of improving the quality of Long Island Sound through the substantial reduction in the discharge of harmful nutrients and improved water quality.
    Norwalk had a plan to upgrade the plant. Phase I was completed in 2012 at a cost of $40 million, making it “state of the art,” Alvord said.
    So the plant has five drum screens but three don’t work anymore, he said. They’re old, he said.
    DPW’s capital budget application says the plant would be in violation of its state permit if it didn’t have working drum screens.
    “We’ve got to do some things in lieu of not doing Phase II of the treatment plant upgrade to be able to handle storm flow, emergency treatment and that kind of thing,” he said.
    Mr. McCarthy: “… I am pleased to say that I was completely correct and that the plant has been recertified and does operate at the highest levels of efficiency and safety, and no one can say otherwise…Considering what we are dealing with, and the number of awards the plant has received, both on a local and national level, almost any rational person would conclude that this was a well-run plant.”
    NORWALK — The city’s wastewater treatment plant withstood the flood, but the heavy rains overwhelmed three pumping stations and sent sewage spilling from a number of manholes in Norwalk, according to public works officials.
    “We had no solids losses at the plant. We had three pumping stations that became overwhelmed,” said Director of Public Works Harold F. Alvord. And “we had a number of sanitary sewer manholes that became surcharged — they filled up and became pressurized — so we had some relatively small quantities of sewage around those manholes that escaped and we obviously cleaned them up and we reported them to the (state) as bypasses as we were required to do.”
    June 2014
    The litigation with Flowserve dates back at least to November, according to meeting minutes. It was discussed in an executive session Monday.
    Five of six pumps at the new sewage treatment plant headworks facility have failed, Alvord said. “They are refusing to honor their warranty. We have outside experts that have proven that it’s not the city’s operating, that we operated the pumps the way we are supposed to,” he said. “They made a thousand reasons why they can’t honor their warranty, or they’re not going to.”
    It has cost the city about $30,000 per pump, he said. Meeting minutes quote DPW Operations Manager Lisa Burns as saying one pump cost $37,000 to fix.
    Replacing the pumps would cost $1.2 million, according to minutes from the March 17 WPCA meeting. Flowserve had offered to pay for one third the cost of repairing one pump. Norwalk said no and was paying for repairs at a Flowserve-authorized repair shop, the minutes say. In May, WPCA voted to spend up to $50,000 for an engineering technical investigation into replacing the Flowserve pumps with Flygt pumps.
    Alvord said in May that the city can prove that it’s not at fault.
    “Fortunately we have sensors and probes in the system that show that it was never run dry. It was impossible for it to ever run dry,” Alvord said. “Then every time we sent a pump to a Flowserve authorized repair facility we had an independent engineer there from a firm, had nothing to do with the city, nothing to do with Flowserve, who was there to observe when they opened the pump up and took it out to see what it was. So we have an independent report from this guy, his assessment of what the issue was and all of that kind of stuff.”
    Alvord said it’s his opinion that there is a design problem with the pumps.
    “There are several different seals involved in these pumps,” he said. “Glycol is used as a lubricant and a coolant in a portion of the pump that is down submerged. What’s happened was somehow sewage got into the chamber where the glycol is housed. That shouldn’t happen because of the way the seals, the seals are supposed to prevent that.”

  3. Suzanne

    Bravo, Don’t Panic. That is putting things into perspective!

Leave a Reply

Recent Comments