Brunswick Sewer District flush with improvements

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BRUNSWICK — More than two years after funding was approved by voters, $22 million in upgrades to the Brunswick Sewer District’s Pine Tree Road wastewater treatment plant are complete.

Renovations were necessary to the aging treatment plant, which was built in 1967 and last upgraded in 1991.

General Manager Leonard Blanchette said changes were needed to meet American with Disabilities Act standards.

“That was an old building – technically we’re a public entity so we need to be prepared for that and we weren’t,” he said. “We needed to widen the hallways, widen the doorways, (and) make ADA bathrooms.”

Accommodations were also needed for the district’s staff of 12, since the building was initially designed for a staff of three.

After deciding upgrades would be necessary, Blanchette said his department had a study of the plant commissioned in 2012 that also entailed drafting a 20-year improvement plan. The study found the cost of the changes over that time would come to roughly $40 million. 

After deciding it was “a little too much,” Blanchette said the sewer district decided to divide the improvement into two phases.

The recently completed upgrade is the first phase, which included renovating the treatment plant and building two new office buildings, and a garage to store equipment. 

Blanchette said revamping the plant required gutting almost the entire building – except the heating system, which was fairly new – and re-building it.

The second phase will include changes to the treatment process, which will depend on stipulations made by regulators, Blanchette said.

“(In phase one) we didn’t add any treatment to the plant, we didn’t make it any bigger for more flow, we just upgraded the technology,” he said. “Then, in the next 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, we’ll do phase two.”

To finance the upgrades, voters  in November 2015 approved raising the district’s debt limit from $20 million to $25 million, which allowed the BSD to amend its charter and move forward with a $22 million loan from the Maine Municipal Bond Bank.

To decide which upgrades to make, plant supervisor Jennifer Nicholson said staff visited other facilities and asked workers what they liked and didn’t like. 

One of the new features is an electronic system that allows officials to track the entire facility and make adjustments from a flat-screen TV and make changes using a computer mouse.

Nicholson said the new system allows the entire facility to run more efficiently, as it allows her and others to look at trends in different equipment and “make little tweaks” if necessary, such as cutting back on chemicals.

“We can turn on the pumps, and we can look at trends on what’s coming in (which) helps us make decisions,” she said. “(Before) we had an old panel with  (paper) circle charts, and we couldn’t really see a lot of the information, so that’s a nice new addition.”

Another add-on to the new facility is new odor control equipment, which Nicholson said is carbon filtered. The old equipment at the plant used to require workers to manually administer sodium hypochlorite, or bleach.

She said the new equipment helps control odors inside the plant, but also benefits neighbors of the facility, because when “pressing” of waste is happening it “can smell really bad.”

Compared to the old method, she said the new machine has a “smaller footprint” and will also last longer.

“It controls our air inside, it pulls the smelly air out and cleans it up for us,” she said. “It does work better; it’s really nice. And it’s nice not to have to handle the chemical.”

Other high-tech features include two systems that remove “rags,” or items that are not supposed to be flushed, such as baby wipes, electronically. There are two separate systems – one for septic systems and one for sewer.

Nicholson said the septic receiving system is more convenient for workers because it relies on a card-swipe system, and also is more pleasant for septic haulers because the machines automatically screen for items that could cause blockages. 

It’s also better for efficiency, since such blocks typically halt productivity at the plant.

If there ever is a block or emergency at the facility, however, the newer system can be accessed from anywhere through an app. Another app also alerts Nicholson to blockages or emergencies.

“We can pick up that (system) on our cell phones, so we can control stuff from home if we need to,” she said.

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente

Jennifer Nicholson, supervisor of the Brunswick Sewer District’s wastewater treatment plant, uses a new tracking system that was installed as part of a $22 million upgrade. 

Phase one of a two-phase plan to upgrade the Brunswick Sewer District’s Pine Tree Road facility is complete, encompassing $22 million worth of new features.