May 24, 2020

Cost of moving sewage plant `prohibitive,’ engineer says

ROCKLAND — The relocation of the city treatment plant, described by some as a “toilet in the middle of the living room,” would be prohibitively expensive, according to David L. Phillips, vice president of the Whitman and Howard engineering firm.

Phillips spoke to the City Council Monday night on a proposal to fund a $250,000 treatment plant project through energy savings. The proposal will be on the Jan. 10 council agenda.

A report issued Friday by the Subcommittee on Public Facilities and Services suggested that the city move the treatment plant and its odors away from the downtown area. “Both the treatment plant and the transfer station have serious odor problems that clearly reduce the value of property in their vicinity,” the report said.

On Monday, City Councilor Michael McNeil asked Phillips about relocating the treatment plant, as suggested in the report. Phillips said there are too many problems to even consider relocating the plant. First, the cost of a new plant could range from $50 million to $200 million. The money would have to come from the city, now that federal anti-pollution funds have been exhausted. Legally, the city might not be able to secure permission to place a new sewer outflow into the harbor. And no matter where the city placed the plant, the neighbors would object, Phillips said.

“If we were making coffee, we would smell like coffee. We are in the used water business. We can never eliminate all odors. It is still a treatment plant. We can try to contain odors within the perimeter,” Phillips said. He proposed a $250,000 project at the current site to drastically reduce electrical use, plus reduce odors from the waterfront plant.

The plant now spends $230,000 annually for energy. The project to be considered by the council would replace the secondary treatment aeration system with a “fine bubble” aeration system. The annual energy savings of $35,000 to $40,000 would be used to fund a project financed initially by Whitman and Howard.

The energy savings would come from replacement of the giant mixers run by 200-horsepower machines, with a bubble system run by 70-horsepower machines. Whitman and Howard representatives Phillips and Steven MacDonald said the more efficient system would reduce odors at the site. In addition it would allow the plant to accept a greater flow into the plant.

Mayor Thomas Molloy asked if the new system would allow a proposed agreement with Thomaston to accept sewer flow, as well as Foreside Co., an import company planning to open on Route 1 with 100 to 150 employees.

MacDonald said the plant has ample capacity even with the proposed additional users. MacDonald said the proposal could be on line by July, if the council approves the concept and it obtains approval from the Planning Board, plus review by the Department of Environmental Protection.

On Jan. 10, the council will consider a $400,000 Community Development application, proposed Monday night by Development Director Dake Collins. The project would focus on mitigating the danger posed by lead-based paint in the city.

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