GI Sewage Plant Making $60 Million in Improvements
By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
Marv Strong has a job many would say stinks, literally. So this wastewater engineer can't wait for the Grand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant to get new bar screens, pumps, and grid chambers, stuff most of us don't think about when we flush stuff down the drain.
"Those might not excite the average resident of Grand Island, but to people here running the plant, that's big time stuff," the plant engineer said.
It's big time, because the plant hasn't upgraded that equipment in 48 years.
"And it's a credit to the guys in the maintenance department that that equipment is still running, but let me tell you it is limping along," Strong said.
Grand Island's wastewater plant was at a crossroads a year and a half ago. One option was to privatize operations. Instead, the city brought in new management and plans to spend more than $60 million over the next five years on upgrades at the plant and to neighborhood sewer lines.
Strong said, "Not only is this going to be taking care of infrastructure that's aged, it's also designed to take into effect that the town is growing."
The plant is also stepping up training. This week, operators are attending a class put on by consultant Sidney Innerebner.
She said the goal is to get everyone on the same page, which has been easy.
She said, "The facility runs like a top. They do a great job here."
Of the material coming into the plant, 40 percent comes from the neighboring JBS Swift packing plant. Innerebner said JBS has done a good job of treating that material on its own, so by the time it comes to the wastewater plant, it's no different than household wastewater.
That has helped the plant run more efficiently, and save money on energy. But they have had other issues.
Last year, they ran into trouble with the EPA when routine reports were never filed. They plan to ask the city council to hire a compliance manager, so the paperwork runs as well as the plant.
Strong said, "It's complex, there's a lot of rules and regulations, they're constantly changing."
But the plant is running efficiently, and they rarely hear complaints about odor, a decade after such complaints were so common the city set up an odor hotline to handle them.
The two-day training class helps the plant's operators become re-certified. Innerebner said it is also costing the city far less to do the training in house, as opposed to sending employees to conferences out of town.