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Wastewater treatment plant, now on-line

Sarah Harrington

(9/30) After 8 years of work, the new wastewater treatment plant has finally started operations. The $20 million treatment plant was mandated by the state in conjunction with efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. The plant was originally scheduled to go on-line in the spring but was delayed for an unspecified reason.

The town’s old wastewater facilities, built in the late 80's were, at the time, considered a showpiece environmental engineering marvel through their use of ground drip percolation technology to remove toxins and other contaminates, prior to the wastewater being discharged into Tom’s Creek.

The old wastewater treatment facility, however, was unable to meet revised environmental mandates to reduce threatening pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay, forcing the town to build the new treatment plant. The existing maintenance structures and laboratory used to test water before it is released, were retained as well as one or two existing wastewater lagoons.

The town received funding for the plant from several sources. $14.5 million was given to the town through grants from the Department of the Environment and the federal Department of Agriculture (DOA). In addition to those grants, the town received $5.5 million from the DOA, and the board of commissioners approved an increase in user fees that provided more funding for the project.

In 2012, the town approved an average 40% increase in sewer rates to pay for the balance of a new wastewater treatment plant that will not be covered by grant money, and for any accrued debt service.

Town Manager, Dave Haller has said that the new wastewater treatment process is more high-tech than the previous process, meaning the new treatment will be more effective in aerating the water and intensifying bacteria growth, which is necessary when treating raw wastewater. Due to the more "active treatment," the town will see an increase of $100,000 a year in electrical costs. To help with that cost the town constructed solar panels to help power the facility.

Mayor Donald N. Briggs described the improvements mandated by the state as a "real challenge for the town," at the beginning of the project, but now that the plant has opened, he describes the new facility as "a benefit for generations to come."

The new facility is equipped to process up to 750,000 gallons of wastewater per day, equivalent to the average output from 3,000 ‘connections’ or ‘taps,’ which is 725 more then the town’s current drinking water treatment plant is capable of supplying. The town currently has 250 unused water taps to support any immediate development needs. Beyond that however, a new drinking water treatment plant would be required.

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