Commission chairman revisits discharge limit issue

SALEM – City Utilities Commission Chairman Bob Hodgson wants the state approached again about approving a local limit for phosphorous discharge into the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Hodgson made the request during the commission’s meeting this past week, asking staff members to talk to legal counsel about contacting officials from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

A few years ago, engineers from Burgess and Niple Inc. had completed a phosphorous discharge study which supported justification for a local limit of 24 milligrams per liter for the amount of phosphorous permitted to be discharged into the wastewater treatment plant.

The local limit justification was sent to the OEPA in March 2010, with the city still waiting for the answer.

The city can’t govern and limit the amount of phosphorous coming into the system without the local limit being approved. The city also needs the local limit established in order to determine the design requirements for the Phase II improvements to the wastewater treatment plant, which will help the city meet the phosphorous discharge limits set by the state.

The city held a groundbreaking in August for Phase I, a $2.7 million project expected to improve the removal of solids and improve suspended solids compliance issues at the plant. Some of the work includes replacing the mechanisms of the three final clarifiers, raising the water level by a foot to add more capacity for better settling, adding a sludge thickening building to house two sludge thickeners, modifying the blower building which includes ventilation to bring it up to standards and interior and exterior piping modifications.

Other upgrades to the plant will occur in two additional phases. Hodgson said they’ll have to start thinking soon about Phase II and Phase III, which is why they need an answer from the state on the phosphorous local limit.

Phase I improvements are to be completed by Aug. 5, 2014, according to the contract. The project won’t be starting until the equipment needed to be replaced is ready to be delivered to the site, so that labor and construction equipment is mobilized at the same time.

The phosphorous issue began when the OEPA issued a renewal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit to the city in 2002 that put a limit on the level of phosphorous the city could discharge into the Middle Fork of Beaver Creek. The city appealed to the Environmental Review Appeals Commission, but ERAC upheld the decision of the OEPA. The ruling was appealed again, sent back to ERAC, and ended up in court again. The city is still waiting for a consent decree.

The OEPA is requiring a level at no more than 1 milligram per liter. Most plants average domestic levels of 12 mg/l or less of phosphorous and those levels can be reduced to the proper number chemically.

In the city’s case, the phosphorous levels are higher due to the waste coming into the system from local industry, but may be reduced now due to one of the larger companies pretreating and recently completing an upgrade and expansion of its own on-site production wastewater treatment plant.