by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – Town Manager Shaun Fielder and several members of the Hardwick Select Board gave a public tour of the wastewater treatment facility on September 24. The plant, which provides the sole function of treating wastewater, is a blue, concrete structure located at the end of Treatment Plant Road, behind Aubuchon Hardware.
Chief Plant Operator Ken Lacasse and Backup Operator Edward Richard hosted the tour to give residents a look at what Fielder described as “likely the most valuable asset this community has.” Two members of the public showed up for the tour.
According to a Hardwick Gazette article at the time, construction for the plant began on January 4, 1978, and project costs were estimated at $3.9 million — roughly $16 million In 2020 dollars.
The current engineering proposal for updating the plant, prepared by Essex-based consulting engineers Aldrich + Elliott, PC (A+E), lists costs at approximately $1.6 million with portions of the budget to be covered by grants and subsidies. According to the proposal, the project is eligible to receive “construction subsidies of up to 40% or $2,000,000, whichever is less,” and subsidies from the state-administered Clean Water State Revolving Fund.
The estimated bond before taxpayers is $932,000 which covers “basic” work such as replacing equipment components and meeting the state’s water requirements. A+E also recommended performing additional, less critical replacements and upgrades. After the tour, Select Board Chair Eric Remick and board member Lucian Avery requested further details for the additional improvements.
The wastewater plant consists of lagoons and a small, blue concrete structure located at the end of Treatment Plant Road. While the system can handle 375,000 gallons a day, Fielder said “we don’t want to get anywhere near that.”
Larger towns require more complex treatment systems, said A+E’s Michael Mainer, adding that such a system would not be cost-effective for Hardwick. He explained that increased complexity does not always mean better reliability, as evidenced by the recent influx of raw sewage to Lake Memphremagog and the frequent overflows in Burlington. According to Edward, the system has not unintentionally spilled into the river recently, though was a spill in the past. That failure was due in part to the age of the lagoon’s liner, a component the current proposal recommended be replaced.
The water treatment process consists of manmade and biological processes and currently takes approximately 30 days to complete, Fielder said. When sewage enters the plant, a screening process occurs to separate inorganic solids (i.e., solids not made of human waste) and redirect them to a grit removal system. Fielder stated that only human waste and toilet paper should be flushed down the toilet, as foreign materials often result in system blockages. When a blockage occurs, plant operators must manually clear it, Fielder said. He added “you can imagine the biohazards” plant workers are exposed to while performing such tasks.
Following the removal of inorganic materials, air and chemicals are added to the system and the waste is directed to the plant’s two lagoons, each about 10 feet deep. Local geese also frequent the lagoons, adding to what operators refer to as “BOD” — Biological Oxygen Demand. The lagoon bottoms are manually checked for sludge with a tool Lacasse described as “basically a fish finder.” A full sludge cleanout for the first lagoon is recommended in the proposal, and is necessary to replace the liner, which has come to the end of its useful life. A+E estimated the depth of the sludge in the lagoon at two to two-and-a-half feet. The second lagoon recently underwent a sludge cleanout to remove more than a decade’s worth of accumulated sludge.
Both lagoons are aerated, so while their surfaces may ice over in the winter, the lagoons do not freeze.
One of the residents taking the tour asked if the plant is testing the water for COVID.
Fielder said the crew tests the water for a range of toxins under state mandate, but the cost of COVID testing is prohibitive. He said it was his understanding that the prevalence of COVID in a wastewater system reflected that of the towns it served.
Aside from their recommendations to replace old equipment and upgrade for efficiency and performance, A+E found the facility “capable of meeting the Town of Hardwick’s needs and well-suited for continued use.”