Engineer tells town: ‘components at this plant are near the end of their useful life’

Published 9:11 am Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Norwood Town Council received a condition assessment of the town’s aging wastewater treatment plant at Monday’s meeting.

Chuck Willis, of Charlotte’s Willis Engineers, presented the report on conditions at the town’s plant, which was built in 1971 with a treatment capacity of 750,000 gallons per day when operating at full efficiency.

“The normal life cycle for a wastewater facility is about 20 years for equipment and 50 years for the building,” he said. “Lots of the components at this plant are near the end of their useful life.”

Damage to one of the plant’s two clarifiers has, according to Willis, reduced the current treatment capacity, although Interim Town Administrator Ray Allen interjected that “temporary repairs” have been made to the clarifier.

Willis also identified one original design flaw, a number of aging components and several items needing updates.

The facility’s headworks, installed at the time of the plant’s construction, are a cause of spills in heavy rainfall events, said Willis.

“The headworks was not built large enough to handle above-normal flow,” he said, noting recent heavy rains have resulted in “frequent overflows,” placing the town at risk for fines from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

Other items identified for correction included a number of inoperable valves, the need for cleaning of one aeration basin, repair or replacement of at least one of the plant’s two clarifiers, installation of a chlorine gas detector in the facility’s chlorinator building, replacing existing chain barriers with handrails and repair of an aging flow meter which Willis described as “not very accurate.”

The report did cite the facility’s solids handling efficiency as satisfactory, especially considering recent weather conditions.

“It’s been a difficult year weather-wise for wastewater treatment plants to deal with solids,” Willis said.

Discussion of options for financing the needed improvements followed, with Willis noting the potential for two possible funding sources.

“The Clean Water State Revolving Fund offers no-interest loans with a 20-year term,” he said. “The US Department of Agriculture’s Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant program offers combination grants and loans with a 40-year term.”

Allen, who recently worked to procure a USDA Water and Waste Disposal Loan/Grant for Wadesboro, expressed optimism toward Norwood’s prospects for such funding.

“Norwood has a good chance of getting the USDA funding,” he said, noting such grants are specifically earmarked for governmental units of 10,000 or fewer people, and that the town’s application process is already “pretty far along.”

“A final answer is a couple of months out,” he said.

Commissioner Larry McMahon expressed urgency in moving forward with needed repairs, citing the damaged clarifier as a serious risk.

“We have been operating on one clarifier for a year and a half now,” he said. “If the other clarifier were to fail, we would be forced to haul our wastewater somewhere else,” he said.

Willis noted the cost of replacement and enlargement of both clarifiers in addition to performing all needed renovations would cost the town around $4 million.

“We need to pursue the USDA grant/loan program,” said Commissioner Wes Hartsell, “and for now we should patch the damaged clarifier and clean the aeration basin.”

No official action was taken by the board on the wastewater plant issue, pending budget preparations and information on the town’s grant application.

In other business, commissioners:

• Approved rezoning of property at 198 Nicks Road from Residential to Lake Tillery Business District;

• Approved application to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission for implementation of a No Wake Zone near The Boat House Marina at 712 Berry Hill Drive;

• Approved an agreement with Stanly Community Christian Ministry to operate a food pantry from the Norwood Community Building, with March 26 as the pantry’s first day of service

• Approved a budget amendment moving $800,000 from Professional Services to the Water Treatment Plant budget for replacement of a motor and a check valve.

The commission will next meet at 7 p.m. March 18.

Toby Thorpe is a freelance contributor to The Stanly News & Press.