POTSDAM — Energy efficiency, turning waste to compost and saving the village money were all major players in what is the near-conclusion of a $17 million upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant.
The facility, located on Lower Cherry Street, started operation in 1969 with much of it’s equipment developed a year earlier. Chief Operating Officer James Blackmore said the nominal equipment upgrades have brought the facility into the 21st Century.
The plant saw some upgrades in 1998, but Mr. Blackmore said that still left the plant with many of its original parts.
The current project began in the spring of 2018 and is in the final stages of completion.
“We’re working on the last five percent of the project,” Mr. Blackmore said. “Blue Heron Construction is going to come back in spring. They have some other stuff to finish up.”
With that conclusion Village Administrator Gregory O. Thompson said they will have changed out every piece of mechanical equipment, including the complete replacement of the Headworks Building, which was demolished and rebuilt from the ground up.
Mr. Blackmore said that part of the project was the most complicated, comparing it to open-heart surgery.
“It was challenging,” he said. “This upgrade was somewhat unique in that the upgrade had to take place while the plant still operated. It’s like doing open-heart surgery. You have to keep the patient alive while you are doing the surgery.”
All the sewage and storm water in the village flows into the plant through that building, where organic and inorganic grit as well as “floatables,” such as rags and plastic bags, are sorted.
The building was bypassed by a series of pumps and redirecting of the water.
“Before we used to have to almost physically handle some of the products out there,” Mr. Blackmore said. “Now it’s processed and it runs through conveyors and chutes and into a catch dumpster that we can dump. It was the worst stuff that came out of this facility.”
And what’s more, all that sludge, which used to be hauled in tankers by Casella Waste Systems four times a week to Adon Farms on Route 72 in the town, will now be turned into a compost through a new dewatering screw press.
“Before, we used to haul liquid sludge in a tanker up to the farm, that was pretty much three percent solids, 97 percent water and it was a substantial cost,” Mr. Blackmore said. “Now we are able to get 21 percent solids. It’s no longer liquid form. It almost looks like coffee grounds and from that point we are able to haul it in a container.”
Currently it is being shipped to a Rodman landfill, but Mr. Blackmore said the facility is awaiting approval from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to have it brought to Grasslands (Casella Organics) in Chateaugay, where it will be turned into compost that then can be applied to a farmer’s fields for nutritional, beneficial use.
“It’s a little bit cheaper also for us to utilize that,” he said. “It makes more environmental sense to utilize it.”
In step with the environmental aspect of the upgrade, energy efficiency was a major component, with a changeover to LED lighting and the replacement of the 1968 model mechanical aeration mixers to variable frequency drives, which reduced the energy consumption on the plant, Mr. Blackmore said.
“We’re using VFDs for all of our motors, which controls how the motor starts up,” he said. “It’s a gradual start-up, so there is not a big power draw and then it controls the speed of the motors.”
The heating design of the plant has also been improved, with boilers in various buildings for regulation, as opposed to the old model of one boiler and an underground waterline.
“So in the process of that we are making methane and we are reusing that gas, sending it back into the boiler,” he said. “We have a dual-fuel boiler that can run regular, natural gas and it can also burn that waste gas, that biogas. That is the only way we are able to utilize that gas, right now.
“Right now we are doing great. We are cutting costs of our natural gas usage by utilizing the biogas that we are producing and burning it to continue to heat the digester,” he said. “We were extremely behind the ball. We’re just now coming into the 21st Century.”