Nearly $8M in potential upgrades at Northfield water treatment plant required by state

NORTHFIELD — During Tuesday’s Selectboard meeting, Chair Alex Meisner, who is also a member of the Northfield Sewer Commission, said the town would be seeking financial assistance for nearly $8 million in potential required improvements to its wastewater treatment plant.

Meisner said the commission received a letter from the state Department of Environment Protection (MassDEP), asking members to attend an “enforcement conference” via Zoom Nov. 24. The town’s Sewer Commission was scheduled to meet Thursday night to discuss preparation for this meeting.

According to the letter, Department of Environmental Protection personnel “have observed the conditions at the Northfield Wastewater Treatment Plant that are not in compliance with one or more laws, regulations, licenses, permits, guidelines or approvals enforced by MassDEP.” The letter also addresses a notice of non-compliance executed July 27, 2020. This notice was in regards to a “failure to meet minimum Inflow and Infiltration requirements at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.”

Prior to taking possible enforcement action, MassDEP has requested the sewer commission attend the enforcement conference Nov. 24. The purpose of the conference, according to the letter, is to provide the sewer commission with “the opportunity to discuss the alleged violations and reach a negotiated settlement with the department in order to return to compliance.”

“We’re at a breaking point with the sewer department,” Meisner said during Tuesday’s meeting. “We’re at the point where it’s looking like we’re going to have to take out a loan to fund things at the plant.”

Meisner noted that the Northfield Sewer Commission is a private entity with a base of roughly 300 customers. He said the commission would consider taking out a loan or seek other financial assistance so the cost does not fall on the shoulders of customers.

Any action to seek a loan, or to consider other financing options, he said, would likely be brought forth for a Special Town Meeting. Before that, the sewer commission will have to bring in an engineer to review potential renovation plans.

“We’re at the point now where we’re really going to have to start looking at some serious plant upgrades,” Meisner said Tuesday.

The Wastewater Treatment Plant in Northfield was built in 1970, has seen limited upgrades and operates with its original equipment, Meisner said. Some items are prone to freezing in the winter, and aspects of the facility can be difficult to operate.

According to the letter, the “preliminary opinion of probable project costs” for units include: $1,450,000 for new secondary clarifiers, $1,190,000 for “solids handling,” $630,000 for “headworks screening,” $700,000 for “headworks grit removal,” $590,000 for aeration basin components, $450,000 for main electrical gear, $290,000 for clarifier clovers and more.

Water and Waste Digest magazine states the “headworks” of a wastewater treatment plant is the initial stage of a complex process. This process reduces the level of pollutants in the incoming domestic and industrial wastewater to a level that will allow the treated wastewater or effluent to be discharged into a stream, river or lake.

Meisner acknowledged the new secondary clarifiers would be the biggest expense. He said the clarifiers are responsible for clearing water at a certain point in the process, and if they fail, they risk sending unclean water into the river.

In addition to equipment repairs and upgrades, the Department of Environmental Protection has said the sewer commission’s office space cannot be located in the same facility as their lab. The list of “preliminary opinion of probable project costs” includes $150,000 for a new office building, as well as $80,000 for a new garage.

According to the letter from Department of Environmental Protection, some of the factors officials will consider, with supported documentation, in Tuesday’s conference “include, but are not limited to, steps taken to prevent the violation or to promptly return to compliance after violation, or to remedy and mitigate any harm caused by the violation; [the commission’s] financial condition; the public interest” and more.

During the upcoming Department of Environmental Protection meeting, Meisnser said he would explain the “economic sensitivity” of a small town like Northfield. He said he suspected the implementation of repairs would be a fairly lengthy process.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

Author: Going Green

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