Norwalk’s sewage treatment plant needs work, Alvord says

The discharge from Norwalk’s sewage treatment plant is cleaner than the water it goes into, Norwalk Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord said.

NORWALK, Conn. – Coming to a DPW near you – maybe – will be a new source of stove fuel: sewage pellets. But don’t hold your breath.

That comment about a possible revenue stream for cash-strapped Norwalk was just part of Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord’s dialogue with the Planning Commission recently regarding his capital budget request and the sewage treatment plant.

The Water Pollution Control Authority is looking for $200,000 from this year’s capital budget and $3 million next year for the plant. That would be followed by $2 million in 2016-17. There’s also a $500,000 request this year to replace aging drum screens, to be followed by another $2 million next year.

Finance Director Thomas Hamilton has recommended giving the authority the money it is looking for this year, but not to worry — “all debt service associated with WPCA projects will be repaid from revenues of WPCA,” he said.

Alvord likes to say that the water coming out of the sewage treatment plant is of a higher quality than the water it’s going into. Upgrading to a membrane process from the current process — “little bugs that eat the sewage” — would make it even better, he said. But getting money from the state to do that proved to be undoable.

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. A Phase II was planned and would include the switch to the membrane process but, “The state has not awarded sufficient State Clean Water Fund grants and loans to make this project financially viable,” Hamilton said in a letter to the mayor.

Avord put it more colloquially.

“Unfortunately we got into a about-60 percent design and we got into this, I’ll call it a discussion, with the DEEP (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection) on how Clean Water Funds could be allocated to incentivize communities like us to want to do those kinds of things,” he said. “The way they apply those funds, I think, was developed in about 1940 and hasn’t changed since. Unfortunately the way they were going to allocate grant and loan would have required the WPCA board to raise sewer use rates way beyond where they were willing to raise them to complete that. So we ended up stopping the design at 60 percent.”

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.

The city contracts with OMI, a nationwide waste water treatment plant operator, to run the plant. That contract ends in 2020.

A request for bids will go out but, “Unfortunately, the number of companies operating sewage treatment plants is getting lower and lower and lower. It’s turned out to be not very profitable for private companies to do that kind of work,” he said.

“We don’t know if we’re going to have to take the plant back and handle it ourselves,” Alvord said.

OMI owns the belt filter presses that de-water the sludge at the end of the process, he said. That sludge is trucked out of Norwalk – opening the garage door for the truck is the source of the smell some Norwalkers complain about, he has said.

“At the end of the contract we want to be prepared to so something with that belt filter press even if OMI is going to stay on as a contractor,” Alvord said. “We want to own the facility in total and not be at risk of them leaving at the end of of a contract and taking their equipment with them, and then here we are, stuck. We want to be able to own that building, equipment, and not be at rick of them leaving at the end.”

The de-watering process at present is not very efficient, he said. The WPCA or its contractor will be charged a premium to have sludge hauled away in 2020 because of that, the capital request states.

“We want to look at if we can do more efficient de-watering, end up creating sludge pellets that can be sold for stove fuel,” Alvord said. “There are a number of options. We want to see if we can’t generate revenue out of that system as opposed to, right now, just paying somebody to haul that stuff away.”

A 40-yard trailer full of sludge is removed every morning, he said. The garage door is opened and closed as quickly as possible, he said.

“If you take a tour of the sewage treatment plant, do not go into the de-watering building,” Alvord said. “Your wife will not let you into the house when you get home.”


5 responses to “Norwalk’s sewage treatment plant needs work, Alvord says”

  1. Suzanne

    Irony of ironies: this is the plant that was earlier touted as “state of the art” and “award winning” and citizens objecting to offensive smells were told they were simply experiencing the effects of “low tide.” I wonder if Mr. Alvord and OMI thinks that citizens simply forget that their earlier complaints fell on deaf ears when they were told it was all in their heads. Only when more money is needed to run the place, apparently, will admissions be made that the sewage treatment plant is not as “state of the art” as previously claimed. It is enough to make one cynical about the whole governmental process in Norwalk, if one is not already. Public objections dissed? Just wait until more funds are needed from an already stressed budget. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem quite fair or honest to have blamed citizens for legitimate complaints that Mr. Alvord and OMI claimed were somehow simply imagined.

  2. Oldtimer

    In fairness to OMI, it was Alvord and people that worked for him that made all the statements about odor problems. OMI very carefully referred all inquiries to Alvord’s office. That is not to say they were not responsible for ineffective odor control, but they seemed uncomfortable making questionable public statements.

  3. spanner

    Would it be asking too much if we ask Duff Perone Morris and their sidekick Himes to try and help us out?

    A 40-yard trailer full of sludge is removed every morning,odd statement if a truck gets stopped for an overload its in pounds not yards do the belt filter presses work well or does that need to be looked into ?Hal could I have pounds with those red herrings?

    The city contracts with OMI,could Norwalk save any money if these trained professionals give up cutting the grass and Harry give the job to the kids in the summertime?Not for nothing they cut grass at all the pumping stations and then weed whack I cant fathom the city is getting a discount from the regular wage they make and give a few kids jobs in the summer.I guess asking who pays and maintains the equipment and trucks they use just to cut grass would take a executive order from the president.Parks and recs cut almost the same grass at the woodward ave park/pumping station its not like it would be a problem.Or could OMI sub out what was once Norwalks job back to Norwalk? jeez only in Norwalk

    Of course I was trying to save the city some money and not ask about the vac trucks that cost over $200,000 each,These trucks in the past have such a history and little to no paper trails.These trucks have always been a hidden money pit for Hal maybe during the budget talks we should find all about the vac trucks then match the stories from the past to see if any make sense.

    just paying somebody to haul that stuff away,do these loads need to be tightened does Norwalk use calcium if so what is the cost and would better presses save the city some money in disposal cost or is the a silver spoon for OMI?Something stinks and its not all the sludge,

    I hate to think someone could educate the council on this it may save us all money so we could give it to city carting.Take nothing away from the council members but having someone who could coach the council may be a start to saving some money, unless questions still cost money.

  4. Oldtimer

    Independent water testing has confirmed that the discharge water is remarkably clean (free of certain indicator bacteria) when everything is working properly and the amount of water going to the WPCA plant is well below the permit limit, as Alvord claims. When there is a heavy rain, however, the amount of water getting into the system nearly doubles, and the process is quickly overwhelmed unless some of the excess is discharged less than fully treated. The sewer drain system that allows so much rain water to go to the plant is what really needs big upgrades. A lot of older properties still have combined sewage and storm water drain systems. The plant probably does need the upgrades Alvord is talking about. If “upgrade” is right word, as opposed to normal maintenance. State and Federal funding is available for capitol projects called upgrades, but may not be for normal maintenance where things that wear out, like three of five old drum screens, need to be replaced. A lot of the odor problem that seems so unmanageable is the result of business decisions balancing the level of public complaints against the cost of effective odor control. The DEEP has the legal responsibility to set rules for managing sewer plants, but choses to limit it’s rule-making and enforcement to water treatment and ignores odor problems, except where there is proof the odor is toxic chemicals.

  5. scott kimmich

    I think we all need to applaud Diane Lauricello for having asked the tough questions that brought all this to light. Now we know that the plant needs work, not just maintenance, as some had suggested. It shows what diligence can do to help improve public works.

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