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.”