Searsport considers wastewater treatment upgrades

DEP license renewal adds requirements
By Fran Gonzalez | Apr 06, 2019

Searsport — The town's wastewater treatment plant is 30 years old and soon is likely to need upgrades to comply with Department of Environmental Protection license requirements.

Brent Bridges from Woodard and Curran, an engineering company specializing in wastewater treatment plants, talked about a preliminary study detailing the feasibility of extending the wastewater coverage and upgrades to put the plant in line with current standards, at the March 20 selectmen's meeting.

Town Manager James Gillway said, the wastewater plant has functioned well because it has been "overseen by very good stewards" and probably lived longer than many plants built in the same time.

According to Bridges, Searsport is one of the few communities in Maine that do not have a secondary treatment for wastewater — a second tank where water is treated with ultraviolet light. Currently Searsport has only a primary treatment system where water is treated with chlorine.

Because of the size of the community and its coastal location, the Department of Environmental Protection has granted Searsport a waiver for the past 20 years, to forego a secondary treatment.

In January, DEP sent the town a license renewal, or a "draft license" for operating the plant. Bridges said the recent draft license will be "challenging or impossible to meet with a primary plant."

He said the new license would require "treatment they don't currently have."

Gillway said the current plant "requires a lot of chemicals." The plan is to move to a "secondary plant" that has a "secondary reaction which is more organic" and would be better for the environment and for the bay.

Bridges said revisions to the current plant, including updating eight pumping stations and adding some lines, would cost the town around $8.5 million.

"A lot of plants are seeing $20 million investments," he said, and called this project "moderate."

Bridges said the new plan keeps expenses down by reusing and upgrading as opposed to starting from scratch. Some of the improvements he mentioned were a new biological treatment tank, an emergency generator and a new propane tank. He also said they would reuse and upgrade the existing sludge press.

The plant was originally set up to accommodate 200,000 gallons a day, Bridges said, but is only operating at 80,000 gallons a day "so there is some capacity." If Stockton Springs were to join, the plant could accommodate the additional 20,000 gallons a day, he said.

Residents will not experience any disruption while construction is going on, he said.

Bridges said they will submit an application to four funding agencies to try to get grants for the project. The town will need to prove the medium household income is below $39,803 and also prove there is an environment health hazard designation.

Selectmen appropriated up to $10,000 for an income study for funding the wastewater plant upgrades. The town will now have to do an income survey, with 51 percent of residents responding, in order for the application to meet guidelines.

Bridges said once that is done, he will submit the application for funding, "put everything in play that we got, and we'll know late summer early fall how we fared."

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