A Litany of Issues Has Plagued Saline's Wastewater Treatment Plant

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Saline’s 66-year-old wastewater treatment plant, charged with being in violation of state standards, was the subject of a 90-minute discussion during a special meeting held virtually by Saline City Council Monday night.

The state’s Environmental, Great Lakes & Energy’s Water Resources Division sent the city an enforcement notice in February after issuing violations September and March of 2019. The city and EGLE officials are expected to begin negotiating an administrative consent order to provide a timeline for correcting problems at the plant.

Steve Wyzgoski, superintendent of the city’s water and wastewater treatment plant since June 25, answered questions of council members for the better part of the meeting.

It quickly became clear during the meeting that Wyzgoski and his staff have been overwhelmed by the failure of equipment that’s being employed beyond its useful life. These failures have occurred as the state has become tougher with municipalities after the disastrous failures in Flint.

Wyzgoski provided council with an exhaustive list of issues his department has dealt with in the 22 months he’s been here. It included some permit submissions and other time-consuming tasks. It also included getting up to speed on new PFAS requirements and a PFAS investigation.

And it included an assortment of equipment failures.

  • Problems with the rotating biological contactors (RBCs).

  • The constant problems with the Nova filters.

  • Completion of the odor control project.

  • Three buildings at the wastewater treatment plant had no heat. All three are heated now.

  • The digester’s gas boiler had a complete failure.

  • The sludge pump had a complete failure. The sludge line was clogged and the flushing valve was installed.

  • At the water plant, both reverse osmosis membranes failed.

  • Both reverse osmosis booster pumps failed.

  • Both water plant sanitary sewer pumps failed.

  • Both water plant wastewater pumps that pump effluent to Mill Pond have failed.

  • Four of the five heating units at the water treatment plant were not working and have been repaired.

  • The city’s biggest drinking water well was out of service and is now in service.

Wyzgoski, answering a question from Councillor Dean Girbach, said many of the issues were due to equipment being past their useful life. 

“I’ve been working on trying to shovel my way to the top to get ahead so we can start working on more preventative maintenance and less on emergency maintenance,” Wyzgoski said.

When Councillor Jim Dell’Orco asked about recent spending on the wastewater treatment  plant, more than $8 million since 2012, Wzygoski offered a blunt assessment.

“The city has put quite a bit of money into piece-work-type fixes to a plant that is well beyond its useful life, in my opinion,” Wyzgoski said. “In my opinion, a new plant needs to be made - from the influent, that has a retention basin, that can store some of that flow from the rain events. And then when the rain event is over, we can reintroduce that slowly so we don’t get such an overload.”

Such a basin and storage facility could be located across the street on the old Hoover property. Wzygoski was referencing options presented to council in a Tetra Tech siting study commissioned by city council. Council is years away from any of those solutions. Due to the exorbitant cost associated with building new or connecting to Ypsilanti’s regional system, council has expressed a preference for rehabbing and perhaps expanding the existing plant. Even that is costly. Council is considering phased approach - which Tetra Tech estimated cost the city about $32 million over the next 20 years and many millions more in years beyond.

Councillor Jack Ceo quipped, the more expensive options might lead to a tax revolt.

Wyzgoski said he hoped council could begin to spell out a timeline for rehabbing the facility so he could make good decisions about maintaining or replacing equipment. Mayor Brian Marl said he anticipated council would begin such discussions after the budget is approved.

In the meantime, Wyzgoski talked about a few things that could help with efficient operation of the plant. 

Two processes are at the beginning of the process.

A finer screen would catch more material, including rags and tampons, before it gets into the plant and wears on pumps and other equipment. Either way, workers have to rake the screens and carry heavy buckets of waste away - a practice that is time-consuming and not very safe for employees.

The city is in the process of repairing the rotating biological contractors. But the old technology requires a lot of muscle power and is very labor-intensive.

Toward the end of the process, the city has struggled with its Nova tertiary filters, which treat secondary effluent near the end of the process, since they were installed as part of a $3 million upgrade that was finished in 2016. To date, the filters haven’t been operational long enough for the warranty meter to begin running. One filter is running now and the other is soon to begin running, Wyzgoski told council.

Members of council expressed concern for Wyzgoski’s workload and asked how city council could support Wyzgoski’s efforts - particularly when it comes to cataloging a manual that can be used by staff to track maintenance and the life of the equipment.

Wyzgoski said much of the equipment is old and lacks documentation. He said the maintenance is experiential, so the catalog must be completed by staff with experience. He had plans to contact speak with Ypsilanti regional plant staff for templates and assistance with the computerized maintenance management system, but then the coronavirus struck.

Council members also asked for transparency and more information about the wastewater treatment plant violations. Councillor Janet Dillon asked city staff to boil down the violations into laymen’s terms so residents could better understand what they meant.

Dillon asked how the violations were communicated.

Wyzgoski said City Manager Todd Campbell was notified and that all violations were addressed with EGLE. He was apologetic for not addressing the violations with council.

 

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