LEE -- The federal government has lauded Lee for having one of the most eco-friendly and efficient sewage treatment facilities in New England.
The Environmental Protection Agency has named the town as one of its recipients of the 2012 Regional EPA Wastewater Treatment Excellence Award. Town officials plan to accept the award during a luncheon later this month sponsored by the New England Water Environment Association. The NEWEA gathering in Boston on Jan. 30 will also honor other communities who have received similar recognition from the EPA.
State environmental officials nominated Lee for the award based on the new plant’s performance since it opened nearly five years ago, according to EPA officials.
"[The award] validates the fact we have people who know what their doing and we appreciate their work," said Lee Board of Selectman Chairwoman, Patricia Carlino. "Al’s oversight has been tremendous and all the guys are doing a great job."
Carlino is referring to plant supervisor of 14 years, Alan Zerbato and his staff: Todd Tyer, Craig Rand and Myron Ford.
"Al does a great job running the plant and we all have pride in keeping it in working order," Tyer added.
The state-of-the-art sewage treatment plant on Route 102 went online in March 2008, replacing a 40-year-old outdated facility that was located behind the new one before it was torn down in April 2008. The taxpayers’ $22.2 million investment is the town’s single largest public works project to date.
Zerbato says keys to the facility’s success are maintaining an annual $480,000 operating budget and meeting tougher EPA standards in order to discharge the treated wastewater into the Housatonic River.
Last year, the Lee plant met a new EPA threshold for removing phosphorus from sewage. During the reporting period of April 1 through Oct. 31, the clear water leaving the plant contained an overall average of 0.12 milligrams per litre of phosphorus -- well below the 0.2 mg/l limit.
"Very few plants are targeting 0.2mg/l; Lee has gone beyond the reach of most municipalities," said Terry Reid. Reid is director of research and development for the Illinois-based Aqua-aerobic Systems Inc., manufacturers of the wastewater treatment equipment installed at the Lee facility.
Zerbato said limiting the discharge of phosphorus, food for plant and algae, is key to keeping the Housatonic healthy.
"Excess algae and plants will deplete the oxygen in the river," he noted.
The cleansing process also relies on UV (ultraviolet) lamps, rather than chlorine, to treat the average of 620,000 gallons of water discharged daily into the Housatonic River.
Zerbato cited how he and his staff are constantly tweaking the plant’s efficiency, such as chemically treating the sewage before it enters the four large outdoor tanks equipped to remove the solids from the water.
"We have met every threshold the state has asked of us since we started up," he said, "and it didn’t cost the town one additional penny for a consultant or equipment to reach our goals."