Nov 05, 2010 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
Ask any wastewater treatment plant operator, treating sewage is easy. It’s dealing with the final waste product that’s difficult.
“When I go visit across the state, the most frequently asked question is ‘How do I deal with sludge?’ said Jim Bower, New York Rural trainer/technician, during a Nov. 4 Marcellus village board workshop meeting at Village Hall. “And they tell me what they’re doing and the majority of them aren’t satisfied.”
Village Operator Greg Crysler presented the village board with a letter indicating his concerns about village sludge, as Seneca Meadows is beginning to push the New York State Department of Environment Conservation’s limit for sludge intake.
“I live 30 miles away from Seneca Meadows Landfill and it is now affecting the horizon,” Bower said.
Why bother crowded landfills with village sludge if there’s a way to turn it into something useful? The village’s operators have looked to composting village sludge to produce valuable mulch as a short and long-term solution.
The proposed project is estimated at $700,000, half of which would be covered by a New York State Department of Environment Conservation grant currently available to treatment plants that are willing to make the switch. The plant would be the first of its kind in Onondaga County, though similar plants exist across the state, including Madison County.
Crysler and fellow plant operator Ryan Riefler completed a feasibility study that showed the projected cost of hauling sludge to Seneca Meadows to be $33,350 assuming no increase in cost – if that’s even an option. Composting was projected at $5,600 a year, making for a savings of $27,750 annually. Taking into account the $350,000 to build the facility, it would take the village an estimated 12.5 years to break even on the project.
Crysler and Riefler also ran a pilot test last month that confirmed that Marcellus sludge could be turned into Class A compost.
Village Consultant Brian Romeiser designed his own composting system for the Machester-Shortville Joint Sewer District 25 years ago and has since consulted in the design of 13 facilities. He said composting has proved much harder for other areas where heavy metals populate the wastewater.
“Because this is in a pretty much entirely residential district here, the resultant biosolids from the treatment plant are of such a good quality that composting is relatively easy,” Romeiser said.
The pilot test proved to Crysler and Reifler what Romeiser already knew, he said, adding that the operators also come away with “a better understanding of what’s actually going on before they spend any money.”
One resident, concerned with the high cost of the project, suggested the village look into consolidating with other towns that might face a similar problem.
Mayor John Curtin pointed out that most nearby municipalities have their water treated at Metro Water in Syracuse, with the exception of Tully, which has its own system in place that works well for them. Crysler explained that Tully is permitted to dispose of its sludge through land application.
“They’re not going to compost because land applying is the cheapest way to go,” he said.
Even if Marcellus found a municipality interested in going in on a composting project with them, chances are there’d be no benefit to consolidating, Romeiser said.
“It’s not like a newspaper where you can double the circulation; it doesn’t work that way,” he said. “The square footage directly relates to how many pounds of sludge you’re treating.”
In other words, building and operating a compost facility for Marcellus and a village with the same amount of wastewater would cost twice as much. Producing quality compost would also become far more difficult once another municipality’s wastewater was brought into the mix, Romeiser said.
Low on options
Crysler and Riefler find themselves at a crossroads. This is not the first time they’ve had to adjust their operations based on who will take village sludge.
“The frequency of this change is becoming alarming to us as the operators that run the plant,” Crysler said.
Romeiser confirmed that the village is running out of options. He said Seneca Meadows is now taking sludge from Canada, capturing methane gas from it and producing electricity.
“They’re taking it in such mass that these little treatment plants in New York State, they don’t want to be bothered with you,” he said. “They are going to start limiting you on what times you can bring the sludge, because they just flat out don’t want you there.
“Even their own local people … as in Waterloo and Seneca Falls, are having really tight limits imposed on them.”
Give and get back
Crysler said the plant would likely give the compost away to residents in return for the taxes they pay. But in Romeiser’s experience, most people see the mulch as a gift.
“They strongly believe they’re getting something for nothing,” he said. “Because they’ve already paid the price at Home Depot.”
Romeiser said with every composting project he’s been involved with, it’s only been a matter of time before people started lining up for their share of the compost.
“Once the residents get to using it, it’s word of mouth and it goes very, very rapidly,” he said.
Crysler mentioned visiting Waterville’s plant where he saw a man begging for woodchips, which are used and re-used in the composting process, because there was no compost left.
Romeiser said golf courses vie for the compost, and expects schools to as well, with herbicide and pesticide bans going into effect statewide.
“Organic compost naturally out-competes the weeds and the pests,” Romeiser said. “If your school system actually finds out about this and starts playing with this, you may not have a lot left for your residents.”
According to plant operators, the school, being literally right up the road from the treatment plant, has already found out.
Not having enough compost to go around is a problem the village can live with.
“It’s a plant operator’s dream,” Romeiser said.
Village trustees indicated their interest in moving forward with the project and will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Nov. 23 upstairs in the Marcellus Free Library. Romeiser expects the village to have no trouble obtaining both the DEC permit and grant.
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