Local legislators tackle sewer, water issues

  • The South Deerfield Wastewater Treatment Plant’s headworks will be upgraded to include mechanical screening and washing. It will also receive a new vortex grit capture system, and a new grit pumping and processing system will be installed. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Water
Published: 12/5/2019 10:39:22 PM
Modified: 12/5/2019 10:39:11 PM

Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Natalie Blais say it’s not always a pleasant subject to talk about, but they are committed to making sure water and sewer issues throughout the county are addressed and resolved.

“We know the importance of these issues,” said Blais, D-Sunderland.

“We have to talk about these critical issues,” agreed Comerford, D-Northampton.

The two have begun checking with town and city officials across Franklin County, referring to them as “the ones on the front lines of the work.”

The legislators said this is the first time since they were elected and took office last January that they’ve started digging deep into what can and should be done about aging sewer and water infrastructure. They said not only will they work with town officials, but with agencies throughout the state that might be able to help, and will look at ways to get funding and to pass legislation that helps.

Escalating costs in Greenfield

Marlo Warner, director of the Greenfield Department of Public Works, said escalating costs and the loss of disposal sites has hit Greenfield where it hurts. For instance, not long ago, it cost the city $169,000 to truck sludge because it was transported locally, so fuel costs were low, he said. This past year, however, those costs rose to $439,000 because the sludge was trucked to Lowell. Prices continue to rise.

“We estimate it’s going to cost us about $540,000 to do the same this year,” Warner said. “It’s all relative, no matter the size of the problem. It’s unsustainable.”

He said plants that receive sludge from towns and cities are shutting down, and there are also budgetary constraints that everyone is facing. He said cities and towns are also looking more closely at their carbon footprints.

“Because of the budget constraints, we’re all looking at smaller staffs and aging infrastructures, too,” he said.

Warner said the city has been talking about installing an anaerobic digester that would handle not only Greenfield’s waste but could take on other regional towns. Earlier this year, city officials unanimously gave the go-head for Greenfield to pursue an anaerobic digester, agreeing to budget $4.1 million for the project that will be led by the Department of Public Works.

“This is exactly the kind of thing we should be prioritizing and putting forward in Greenfield,” Precinct 3 City Councilor Brickett Allis said at the time of the vote in May.

Regional anaerobic digester

The regional anaerobic digester has been discussed on and off for several years. Greenfield and Franklin County have looked at alternative ways to reduce costs and potentially do so in a more eco-friendly manner.

Six or seven communities have expressed interest in contributing to a regional anaerobic digester. Many Franklin County communities — Bernardston, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Conway, Deerfield, Erving, Gill, Hawley, Heath, Leverett, Montague, New Salem, Northfield, Orange, Rowe, Shelburne, Sunderland, Warwick, Wendell and Whately — are part of the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District, which could help Greenfield go regional while obtaining grants and funding to help.

Stephanie Cooper, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) deputy commissioner for policy and planning, said the agency helps towns and cities with water resources, including a drinking water program, which provides help and guidance to public water suppliers. The DEP offers information on all regulatory and procedural aspects of maintaining a safe drinking water supply.

It also provides information and offers incentives for recycling and reuse of different materials associated with sewer and drinking water, and provides information about supplemental grants so that cities and towns don’t have to take on the full cost of whatever it is they need to do to mitigate problems. The agency can direct officials to other cities and towns across the state that are successfully disposing of their sludge and handling the problems of aging infrastructure.

“Communities need to talk with each other and look ahead,” Cooper said.

Comerford and Blais said they will continue to talk with town and city leaders about their needs and what they want from legislators.

Seeking sustainability and funding

Comerford and Blais held a recent workshop attended by many county, town and city officials, plus state agencies. They said all the comments and questions that came out that day will help guide the local delegation — Comerford, Blais, Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, and Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, — as they navigate the world of water and sewer in the region.

“We want to explore ideas and find ways to make this sustainable as we move forward,” Comerford said. “We need to find affordable ways out of these problems.”

She said there need to be ways to cuts costs in the long run, and regulations that don’t serve as impediments to towns and cities removing their waste.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it is investing $635 million in 122 projects to improve water systems and wastewater handling services in rural communities in 42 states through its Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program, and Deerfield and Orange will benefit.

Deerfield will receive a loan of $8.57 million and a grant of $2.6 million to upgrade and modernize the South Deerfield Wastewater Treatment Plant. The headworks of the plant will be upgraded to include mechanical screening and washing, it will receive a new vortex grit capture system, and a new grit pumping and processing system will be installed. The headworks removes things like sticks, stones, grit and sand from the wastewater stream to protect and reduce wear on the downstream process equipment.

“The amount of stuff in our sludge, it’s horrible,” said Deerfield Selectboard member Trevor McDaniel. “There’s so much junk in there.”

Orange will receive a $10 million loan and a $6.6 million grant that will be used to make upgrades and improvements to the existing facility. Those will include updates to the preliminary treatment area, biological treatment systems, solids handling system and electrical systems.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-0261, ext. 269 or afritz@recorder.com.

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