Village to Stay Ahead of the Curve in Updating Sewer Services

by Paula McKibben  The wastewater treatment plant project and the west side interceptor project are costing the village 3.7 million dollars. Should we be worried?
   Absolutely not.
   We should be grateful.
   Heading up these two projects are Dan Bowden, superintendent of the wastewater treatment plant and Scott Phillips, Bluffton Village service department foreman. Phillips indicated that projects are chosen through a process where “the worst of the worst” is evaluated and fixed.
   Mayor Judy Augsburger concurs saying, “Bluffton is ahead of the curve,” for this reason.
   So, the wastewater treatment plant and the west side interceptor came under evaluation. The wastewater treatment plant is operating within EPA standards, but it was decided that the plant needed a new screen and building for a backup as well as for the poor condition of the current one. The screens remove the larger particles from the water.
   The plant was also in need of a new raw pump and building. The previous pump had been installed in the 1950s. The raw pump pulls the sewer waters into the plant.
   A third building, a chemical feed building, was created. It is here that chemicals are used to remove phosphates from the water. 
   Then, to keep everything operating efficiently, a communication system, allowing all of the systems and machines to communicate with each other, was added.
   Ultimately, the treated water is released into the Big Riley. According to Bowden, “the biggest end goal is that we are making the creek cleaner than what we found it.”  The work at the wastewater treatment plant has already been completed.
   The interceptor project has been more obvious to the community because the work sometimes results in the closures of roads. The concrete interceptor needed to be replaced because it was allowing storm water to seep into it, making its way to the wastewater treatment plant and overtaxing the equipment there.
   These problems at the wastewater plant and with the interceptor became the goals of this project, which began in the fall of 2016 and will end, weather permitting, at the beginning of May. According to Phillips, the interceptor project will “update old sewers to eliminate extra water that gets into the system” and cut costs at the wastewater treatment plant, as well as saving wear and tear on the equipment there.
   This project with these goals has been in the works for 10 years. The Floyd Browne Group, engineers, completed the original plans 10 years ago. Why the village didn’t proceed at that time is unknown, but Mayor Augsburger suspects that the recession that began in 2008 may have been a financial influence.
   Things began to roll in 2013 when the village passed a 0.25 percent income tax for 15 years just for this project. Also, the Floyd Browne Group had sold out to CT Consultants, so CT did the updating of the plans.
   Then, in the fall of 2016, the interceptor work began, with BCI winning the bid to do the work, to be overseen by Phillips and CT Consultants.Though the project was not difficult, it certainly had its problems. Knowing a little background on the 1950s interceptor would be valuable. The interceptor being replaced is concrete and porous, allowing rainwater to seep in and be carried to the wastewater treatment plant, increasing the amount of work the plant had to accomplish. The pipes themselves were in diameters from 24 inches to 12 inches and the project involved laying 3,495 feet of interceptor pipe. Also, it followed the Little Riley, circling the village. It was referred to as the interceptor because all of the sewer pipes in town emptied into it.
   This system, the system we still use, works by means of gravity. Look around Bluffton. The low points are obvious – the creeks – but where are the high points? Gravity systems work on the principle that everything flows from a high area to a low area. As a result, five lift stations are used to boost the water up. This also means that the pumps need to be 30 feet deep and that grading has to be done from one end of the system to the other.
   Add to this the fact that Bluffton is firmly situated on a solid limestone bedrock. Then, after the 1965 tornado, the bricks and concrete from the churches destroyed were used as fill behind and to the north of Marbeck to narrow the flow of the Riley, lifting up a low area and creating higher banks.
   Enter the excavators. It was necessary to bring in an excavator so big that three semis were needed to transport it. A jackhammer was attached to it in order to install the new interceptor. Altogether, this part of the project took four excavators, semis, dump trucks and skid loaders.
   The equipment is used to dig the holes for the new 18 to 24 inch Standard Dimension Ratio (SDR) plastic pipe. These pipes are so sturdy that a backhoe can run over them. They are not porous, so what is inside of them stays inside and what is outside stays outside. The pipes are lasered in place on a bed of stone.
   The sizes of the pipes vary. Leaving the plant, the pipe is 24 inches until it crosses the Riley at the Depot where it becomes 21-inch pipe. This pipe goes all the way to College Avenue where it changes to 18-inch pipe at the Little Riley, finishing at the curve at the end of High Street at the college. There are 3,555 feet of this new interceptor pipe.
Now, those of you who have ever remodeled a home know that one project always leads to another. This project, though on a larger scale, was no different. The village was aware that the sewer line on Elm Street was a problem. It had been clogged with tree roots, treated with acid to kill them and had been inspected by a crawler camera. As a result, changing the sewer line on Elm was included in the project from its inception because, according to Mayor Augsburger, “this was the perfect opportunity.”
The village also knew that Brookwood was going to need a new sewer line. Originally, Brookwood fed its sewage directly into the interceptor pipe. However, the new interceptor had to go on the other side of the creek, creating the need for a new sewer line here as well.
Sauder Visual Arts building and Riley Court at Bluffton University also needed a new line in order to avoid crossing the creek which would have been an expensive option. Making these changes at the college eliminated the need for a lift pump there, saving more money.
Unanticipated problems included having to move an eight-inch sewer line to avoid a fiber optics line and the addition of a line at Mennonite Memorial Home (MMH) as a result of a sinkhole.
Obviously, streets needed to be closed to complete the project. So far, closed streets have included Elm, Brookwood, Washington, Spring, and Riley. College Avenue will close soon, maybe within the next few days.
Really, the only thing that could slow the project down at this point is the weather. There were only two rain days through the winter that they couldn’t work. However, rain in the spring could slow down the clean-up process.
Even after clean up, the job will not be quite done. The interceptor now runs from the wastewater treatment plant to High Street at the college. The interceptor was already added from Kibler through Parkview. But the section from Grove Street to the end of High Street at the college still needs to be tackled.
There are other items on the agenda to be done as well. Before repaving Elm Street, Mayor Augsburger hopes to get approval to replace the water line. Phillips refers to this as an “anticipated water project because of all of the patches in the line.”
Another project would be coming up with a solution to level the sidewalks on Elm Street so that people from MMH can more readily use the sidewalks with wheelchairs. Currently, the driveways are sunken and the sidewalks are attached to the curbs, forcing those walking and using wheelchairs to use the street.
Mayor Augsburger hopes to wrap up the whole project with an open house at the wastewater plant. She says, “It’s interesting just getting inside those buildings that a person wouldn’t normally see.”
As a village, we are fortunate to have those who “stay ahead of the curve,” saving the community money in the long run.