HARTVILLE: The female duck didn’t seem to mind jerry-rigged contrivances to Hartville’s aging sewage treatment plant — or the stench coming from its tanks.
Neither did the mama mallard seem to care about the quality of the water into which she plopped her seven offspring, originally nudging them in a settling tank where the process of treating 300,000 gallons of raw sewage begins each day.
Visiting wildlife, especially water birds, isn’t unusual to the 1950’s-era plant. Mother and chicks, relocated to cleaner quarters by longtime employees Tom Graber and Jim Baxter, who fished them out of the tank with nets, soon were popping in and out of connecting pipes in the chlorine contact tank as if they were in a water park.
“We’ve had them come in before. Actually, we like them in there because they will take out some of the particles left in the tank,” Graber said.
Graber has been charged with maintaining the aging sanitary sewer system at the Wales Drive plant for 33 years along with Baxter, who has been with the village since 1994.
Hartville Mayor Richard Currie credits the pair and longtime lab manager Laquita Pickard, who has been at the plant since 1987, with keeping the plant operating for Hartville’s 1,100 residential and commercial customers.
It has been a daunting task.
“We are lucky to have them to help weather the storm until we get the plant rebuilt,” Currie said, referring to plans for expansion and long-needed upgrades to the plant.
During a recent tour, Graber and Baxter moved through the plant explaining how they have managed to keep it operating even though holes blow through pipe walls and seals spring leaks, spewing corrosive hydrogen sulfide on skin and clothing.
Necessity is the mother of invention, said Graber, and some of the makeshift solutions to the 58-year-old plant’s crumbling infrastructure and equipment are simple but effective.
Plastic wastebaskets have been carved and slipped around leaky pipes to contain corrosive spray, preventing eye injuries. Old wooden ladders get a second life by propping up pipes like support beams. Rags are stuffed into holes to stem leaks, much like fingers in a dam.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency began to take notice of the equipment problems at the plant several years ago, Graber said. Soon after, village officials accepted the fact upgrades to the plant no longer could be delayed, and in 2006, the six-member council began looking for ways to finance improvements.
In 2009, the village began applying for grants and loans to expand and upgrade the equipment. In 2010, the village hired engineering and architectural firm Burgess & Niple Inc., to provide the design for a newly refurbished and expanded water treatment plant.
Last year, the plant operated on average at 93 percent capacity, Graber said. “Then we had a lot of days when we were over 100 percent.”
Once the engineering study is completed within the next few weeks, final costs will be determined and the bidding process will begin, Currie said.
Construction of the estimated $7.3 million project is expected to begin this year.
Funding will include a $2.715 million grant from the Department of Agriculture, a $500,000 Ohio Public Works Grant and a $519,000 Ohio EPA loan and an additional $3.56 million loan, leaving the village to come up with a doable $5,000 bill to pay, Currie said.
In January, the six-member council approved a sewer rate increase from $38.05 to $42.47 per month for residential customers and increased the fee to commercial users by the same 11.5 percent. Rates for businesses that produce unusual amounts of waste are based on the flow each month.
“The rate increase should take care of us and cover the loans and anything else” the project will require, Currie said.
The plant’s capacity will increase from treating 450,000 gallons of raw sewage a day to 600,000 gallons, Graber said.
Outdated equipment will be replaced when the plant is updated and expanded to meet future needs, starting with a computer with old technology that runs the pumps that bring raw sewage into the plant.
Cracked lines, broken valves, and leaking pipes fitted with clamps to contain sewage will be replaced. A new 300,000 gallon aeration tank will be constructed and added to the three operating at the plant now.
The EPA has watched the efforts the village has taken to continue operating under extreme conditions, Graber said.
“At this point, the village has been proactive before the EPA has had to do any enforcement,” he said.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or email@example.com.