Slaying Sludge: Greenfield DPW head proposes regional digester

Recorder Staff
Monday, February 26, 2018

GREENFIELD — A regional initiative to dispose of the city’s sewage sludge would likely lower the sewer rate, Director of Public Works Donald Ouellette says, and it would introduce to the county a pioneering way to handle sludge.

The new method to deal with the end product of the sewage treatment process uses an anaerobic digester that would turn the sludge into a usable product. At present, many treatment plants pay to bury or incinerate their sludge. A digester at the Bar Way Farm in Deerfield converts manure and other organic waste into methane, fertilizer and a form of bedding that can be used on the farm.

Greenfield envisions building a regional sludge digester, which would boost its chances of winning a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant. The idea has already garnered letters of support by Montague, Deerfield, Sunderland, Northfield and Hadley, Ouellette said.

The grant was first proposed in October, but Greenfield didn’t qualify based on its population. Since then, though, Ouellette and Mayor William Martin said they’re inching closer because of the regional pitch, as communities across the state and country face the prospect of landfills closing and tightening environmental regulations.

“If we go regional,” Ouellette explained, it will be because the government sees it as “a neat idea, an innovative idea.” He said, “They will take this blueprint and possibly use it in other places.”

Ouellette, who recently proposed a 15 percent rate hike to the city’s sewer rates, introduced this alternative that could scale back costs during a forum last week at Greenfield High School.

He estimated through rough calculations that this method could save the city at least $100,000 a year, while they finance it.

The estimated cost for a digester for the sludge is about $6 million, Ouellette said, and of that, he calculated Greenfield may pay about $287,000 a year for it.

The projected 2018 costs for sludge removal in Greenfield is $400,000, Ouellette said.

In 2017, it was at $320,000; in 2016, $220,000; and in 2015, $180,000, according Ouellette.

Ouellette said because towns across the region keep closing their waste disposal sites, the costs are driven up. In 1996, Greenfield closed its own landfill.

Currently, Greenfield brings its sludge to one of three landfills: Lowell, Blackstone or Cranston, R.I. As the destination gets farther away, disposal becomes more costly.

Since Greenfield doesn’t qualify for the grant because of its size, town officials have been trying to bring in other communities.

The pitch then is to get politicians to help lobby for them to receive an exemption in this case or for them to become the hub of the action of the other towns, while not officially being a part of it. Martin said they’ve had conversations with Congressman Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, about this so far.

Additionally, Northfield, Shelburne Falls, Erving and Hatfield have been invited to join, though Ouellette said those towns haven’t shown strong interest yet. He thinks once they see their next rates on sludge disposal, they may change their minds.

There are still many steps to work out, but the next step is likely working on a feasibility study with regional partners.

Ouellette’s hope is this could be completed within two years, calling for design this fall and for the six months of construction to begin next spring.

“I will be the first to tell you that’s extremely aggressive but at least if I put it down, it’s a carrot in front of us and politicians,” Ouellette said about the project schedule.

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