SOUTH DEERFIELD — Town officials organized an open house at the South Deerfield Wastewater Treatment Plant ahead of the Sept. 9 debt-exclusion vote in an attempt to convey to the public what they regard as a dire need for upgrades.
About 20 people showed up at the Sunderland Road facility Tuesday afternoon for a tour that preceded a Selectboard meeting at Deerfield Municipal Offices, where the wastewater issue was further discussed.
Selectboard members and Keith Milne, chief operator of the town’s two treatment plants, have advocated for public approval of the debt exclusion for the improvement project at the South Deerfield facility, built in the 1970s. The debt exclusion, in the amount of up to $1 million, was rejected by voters in a special ballot question election in June, forcing the September vote.
Selectboard Chairman Trevor McDaniel has said these votes will need to be scheduled until the debt exclusion is approved.
McDaniel started the tour at roughly 4:40 p.m. by thanking everyone for attending. He explained the plant takes most of the sewage from downtown Deerfield and it’s gravity fed. The town has another treatment plant in Old Deerfield.
Milne conducted most of the tour and detailed the need for a new system that includes a headworks building that could catch foreign debris that can wreak havoc on the facility. He said this debris often includes rags, condoms, dental floss, hair, baby wipes, plastic tampon applicators, pieces of bathing suits, fat and grease, and, more recently, rubber straps or tubing used by drug users to make a vein more visible for injection.
The debris often gets caught in the South Deerfield plant’s aerator, which mixes influent and activated sludge to remove nitrogen compounds from the material. The problem has gotten so bad, Milne said, that starting a year ago the plant has had to bring a crane in once a month to lift out the aerator so his crew members, dressed safely and appropriately, can remove debris by hand.
“This is the biggest energy user in the town,” he said of the aerator.
This month, Milne started using the aerator only every other hour to conserve energy. He explained the South Deerfield facility uses $6,000 to $7,000 in electricity each month, while the one in Old Deerfield uses about $3,800 a month.
“We call these, jokingly, ‘The Dinosaur Plants,’” he said. “Personally, I’ve never seen a more antiquated process in my life, in wastewater.”
Milne said he has worked in the wastewater industry for nearly 25 years, in Massachusetts and Virginia.
“You know, I didn’t even know there were treatment plants out there that didn’t have headworks, when I came here,” he said. “I’ve always seen waste plants with headworks.”
McDaniel stressed to the guests the importance of getting upgrades completed.
“It will never get cheaper,” Trevor McDaniel said.
Voters last month rejected, 194 to 226, a debt-exclusion ballot question for the work in the amount of up to $1 million. During the same election, voters approved an exemption for a more than $1.8 million capital improvement plan for Frontier Regional School.
The South Deerfield plant has also dealt with a saga involving a clarifier — the tank that treats water before it makes contact with chlorine. According to Public Works Superintendent Kevin Scarborough, the brutally cold temperatures in December 2017 temporarily disabled electricity. The clarifier’s metal arm bent after power returned and the arm tried to move accumulated treated water.
Deerfield resident Erich Brown, an engineer and project manager by trade, was one of the guests at Tuesday’s tour and he attended the Selectboard meeting that followed. He said he does not object to the work, only to the process taken by the town.
Brown said he is not convinced quotes were accepted from enough engineering firms, noting that he does not understand how the town can move forward while the Deerfield sewer study report is still in draft form.
“What we’re seeing is we don’t have a process in place to organize this money. And I’m not saying we have to have the people in place,” he said, possibly referring to a steering committee, “but there should be a process.”
Reach Domenic Poli at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.