PITTSFIELD -- Although the average citizen might miss the changes, the city has made significant progress on a multi-year, $18 million-plus overhaul of Pittsfield's sewer plant and the wastewater collection system that feeds it.
Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood said much of the initial sewer plant upgrade work has been completed, and sewer line reconstruction and related work will ramp up over the summer and continue for the next few years.
"We are moving ahead on all fronts," Collingwood said, referring to a hefty number of construction projects of all types scheduled for this summer and fall.
Work on the most critical sewer line needs is in the final design phase, and will go to bid in time for the construction season, he said, adding that the design and initial construction is funded through a $2.1 million authorization.
Over the next few years, the total that could be spent on line repair or water infiltration issues could reach $6.2 million if all the identified problems are addressed.
"We have our master plans, and the engineering has been done," Collingwood said. "Now, we can implement these capital improvements; all those pieces are coming together."
After a significant amount of preliminary engineering and planning, he said, the department is "at a peak in terms of planning ability" and can schedule work as funding allows, with only updates to the master plan each year.
The several related sewer system
Work includes replacing major plant equipment, adding methane gas-powered generation and solar generation facilities; replacing or repairing old sewer lines, and sealing off porous manhole walls that allow water to seep into the collection system.
Pittsfield has funded $12.5 million for the sewer plant upgrades over three years, with "maybe two-thirds" of the total coming from the federal economic stimulus act, Collingwood said.
Work already completed at the plant includes replacing equipment that churned the wastewater to aerate it with a system that forces air bubbles into the water and uses much less electricity. Other work included modernizing and computerizing the plant's control systems and replacing decades-old sewer sludge skimming and "grit collection" systems at the plant off Holmes Road.
At the same time, the city obtained nearly 100 percent grant funding to implement energy-saving installations. A set of projects that will reduce plant electricity use by about 90 percent include a 5-acre solar array near the plant, designed to produce 2 megawatts of power, and a three-microturbine system in the plant using methane gas that is a byproduct of the operation to produce both electricity and heat.
In addition to producing 65 kilowatts of power per methane gas-powered turbine, the heat thus produced through the sewage sludge digestion process is utilized to heat the sludge -- further aiding the efficiency of the sludge digestion process.
During this project, Collingwood said it was discovered that the plant's electrical system needed to be upgraded before the energy-saving systems could be used to capacity. That upgrade is scheduled to begin soon.
Collingwood said the sewer line work stems from a federal Environmental Protection Agency administrative consent order to investigate known water inflow and infiltration issues with the system's lines. That includes both groundwater seeping into line cracks and weak seams and storm runoff that directly or indirectly make it into the system.
Planning included a $300,000 study to measure the inflow problem, which showed significant infiltration into the lines. To address this, a $1.2 million evaluation of the sewer system and plan for addressing the problems was developed.
One phase of the ongoing work is a $600,000 drainage system rehabilitation project, which involves cement lining and epoxy sealing manhole walls that are leaking and replacing manhole covers.
Sewer line replacement in areas of the greatest concern will begin this summer.
To reach Jim Therrien:
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