Charlemont treatment plant rebounds from storm Irene
Dawn Peters of the Charlemont Waste Water Treatment Plant in front of the now operational sand filters and solar panels.
Operational sand filter at the Charlemont Waste Water Treatment Plant
CHARLEMONT — The wastewater treatment plant that flooded during Tropical Storm Irene is back on line, but plant officials are still picking black grit out of the UV disinfection system and waiting for emergency funds to cover the bills.
When Irene struck in August 2011, flooding from the confluence of the Deerfield River and a nearby brook churned through the Charlemont Wastewater Treatment Facility’s sand filtration beds, scouring the pea stone filters “all the way to the bottom,” says plant manager Dawn Peters.
Peters said the beds were flooded with 4 feet of water. And when the water receded, the impermeable, sludge-like silt made the recirculating filtration system useless.
From then until this month, the treatment plant has had to bypass its filtration system, chlorinate the wastewater after the solids have been settled out, and discharge the water into the Deerfield River. The plant handles between 15,000 to 16,000 gallons of wastewater per day.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated the storm-related damage would cost about $800,000 to repair, and FEMA is to reimburse the sewer district about three-fourths of that expense.
But for a small plant that serves 450 sewer users at most, coming up with the money to pay contractors on time has been almost as hard as the cleanup itself.
“We’re going to end up (spending) between $700,000 and $800,000 by the time we get done,” said Peters, “and we don’t have all the money. We’re still struggling with Irene and waiting for FEMA funding. We’re in the queue.”
“I never, ever want to go through anything like this again,” she said.
Besides the damage to the pea stone filtration beds, silt migrated through all the plant’s underground piping.
“All the piping had to be taken out and cleaned,” she said. “I couldn’t get here during the flood to shut (things) off.”
Flood waters also flattened the solar electrical backboard that runs the plant’s electricity-producing solar photovoltaic panels. About 64 percent of the electricity needed to run the plant comes from these panels.
Peters said towns can borrow money, but the sewer district is independent from the town of Charlemont, and hasn’t been able to borrow the money until reimbursement sums come in. “We have to pay up front and then we get reimbursed,” she said. “I’m making partial payments, and submitting these bills to FEMA. But there are delays.”
The first bills for treatment plant repairs were paid for with about $67,000 worth of grant money that is to be used for infrastructure repairs, she said. When FEMA reimbursement for $50,000 came in, that sum was used to help pay a $120,000 bill from another contractor. When FEMA reimbursement of $90,000 came back, another contractor was paid for an additional part of the project. Peters said the final bill is for $330,000, and she is waiting for FEMA money to help with that.
The temporary chlorination disinfectant has caused corrosion of stainless steel tanks and has rusted the metal connectors of the UV system. Peters says she hopes the plant never has to use chlorine disinfection again.
Because the plant is so small, it is only required to disinfect the filtered water (with UV disinfection equipment or with chlorine) from April through October. By spring, she believes the UV system will be ready to work. “UV needs clear water to go through. You can’t have sediment in it.”
According to Peters, there is a punch list of other, smaller repairs to be taken care of in the spring.
You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277