There’s $1 million in Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed FY17 budget for the waste water treatment plant in Haines. If that money makes it through the legislature, it would be enough to replace the crumbing building that houses the treatment equipment, but not enough to perform all the work needed. KHNS’s Jillian Rogers took a tour of the decades-old facility last week and filed this report. Warning: this story gets a little gross.
It’s been the same story for years: Haines needs a new sewer plant. The current structure is coming apart at the seams. And the windows. And the beams. But this year, there’s that glimmer of hope from the state.
“This is the treatment plant! I’m Scott Bradford, plant operator. I’ve been working for the borough for 28 years, doing the same thing. The plant was built in 1973…”
In 1985, the structure was built over the plant and in 1991, “a sludge room” was added, Bradford says. Sludge is pretty much what you think it is.
“Part of the process, what settles out in the plant is called sludge. We have to de-water it and we take it to the dump. Currently they’re composting it and making Grade A compost.”
As we make our way around the plant, with Public Facilities Director, and soon-to-be interim borough manager, Brad Ryan, Bradford showcases the worst of the worst.
“Everywhere you go, it’s falling apart. This is just rust. There are gases in here, it’s sewer so there’s sewer gases, hydrogen sulfide in very low amounts and it’s very corrosive.”
In the plant, there is rust and black mold everywhere. The building is literally disintegrating.
“Two winters ago we had these beams up because this part of the building actually started to collapse. We had to put these extra supports and these crosspieces up. And if you look over here, this is the main support beam and it’s just falling apart.”
We make our way upstairs to follow the “progress of the flow,” as Bradford puts it. The poo starts its journey here. There’s a large cylinder going round and round. It separates the human waste from other random materials, not bathroom related, that people flush down the toilet. These foreign objects, a lot of which are Legos, get trapped in the screens within the rotating cylinder. Sometimes, if it’s something interesting, Bradford pulls it out.
“You can find money, we found a set of dentures yesterday. Sometimes a drink token comes through and I think it must have been one of friends that knew I was waiting for that.”
I’m warned to hurry past the rotating cylinder for fear of getting sprayed. The cylinder has four millimeter openings that allow the softer, organic matter to go through, but trap random objects. You know, toys, jewelry, false teeth. It was around then I wished I hadn’t eaten breakfast.
“Don’t stand right there because that’s some of the back-scatter from the screen. Step through quickly.”
“We’ll walk over there, but that’s the splatter zone, so you want to go past it.”
Once the sewage is treated, the liquid goes out into the bay. The rest is turned into sludge.
Recently, the assembly approved the borough’s legislative priorities for the next year. And at the top of the list was the sewer treatment plant. Gov. Walker’s budget includes $1 million for it. Ryan says that’s enough to replace the building. Bradford adds that they’ve been asking for help from the state for about five years.
“Every year it deteriorates a little more.”
Ryan says that while the building is the top priority, the sewer system needs an upgrade, too.
“Scott will send me a picture that you’ll see the screens that say flood and this whole building will have flooded because the screen have jumped the sprocket and literally flooded all the way back into the hallway into their office.”
“Flooded with what?”
So with all the rust and gases, floods and mold, how is the plant still able to operate? Bradford says the Environmental Protection Agency paid them a visit this summer. The facility is still under a waiver that keeps it under EPA’s jurisdiction. Bradford says despite old, ramshackle equipment, the plant is still meeting its permit requirements.
As for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, better known as OSHA, Bradford says on the most recent trip to the facility, they handed out 13 violations. Bradford says all of those were paperwork-related and have since been resolved. He says he’s not worried about his health, if anything his immune system is stronger because of his three decades working in the industry.
Fixing the facility requires a multi-phase plan. The first is to reconstruct the building itself. The second is to replace those spinning screens, while the third is replace the sludge-handling equipment and upgrade the electrical system. Here’s Bradford.
“A whole new treatment plant, if we started from scratch would be $28 to $30 million.”
More money might be available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development loan program, but Ryan says they’re waiting to see what pans out with the state budget.
As for what folks can do at home to make Bradford’s job a little easier: don’t flush toxic chemicals, or dentures, down the toilet.