Touring the waste water treatment plant

Northfield City Councilors had a chance to tour the city’s waste water treatment plant in May 2014. That was well before a series of problems arose in 2018. (News file photo)

A consultant is recommending the city hire an additional wastewater treatment plant supervisor to accommodate the facility’s size and better document maintenance procedures following a series of incidents within the last 2½ years.

During a City Council study session Tuesday, Dallas-based Jacobs Engineering Group Project Manager John Borghesi recommended the position focus on maintenance planning and scheduling activities within the plant. The position is recommended to be cross-trained in operations to fill in for staff who are out sick or on vacation.

There is currently one wastewater treatment plant supervisor who oversees four operators.

The study came after a difficult 2018. That January, a basement was flooded due to a pipe plug failure, resulting in 5 feet of flooding in the basement and 200 gallons of waste water released to the ground. In May of that year, a fire in the biosolids handling facility caused significant damage. Then, in July, a pipe failure in the sludge pump room resulted in 6 feet of wastewater in the basement and 1 million gallons of untreated waste water being discharge into the Cannon River.

Despite the incidents, Borghesi said the plant is well-operated, and limited process control adjustments are required. The treatment plant was found to be able to handle flows and loads without excessive operator attention.

According to the report, however, there is a lack of organized or documented spare parts inventory, making it difficult to determine critical spares and appropriate stocking levels. Staff members, by industry standards, are seen as inexperienced. Except for one staff member with 30 years of experience, the next most-tenured employee has only two years of experience.

“Staffing at the facility is within an expected range for the size and type of facility operated, but on the lower end compared to industry peers,” according to Borghesi.

The city was advised to develop and implement standardized maintenance procedures to cover preventative and corrective maintenance work and implement an industry-standard work order system to track maintenance costs at a more detailed level.

The consulting firm also recommended a permit system to control maintenance work performed in the plant by plant personnel and contractors, and the development of procedures for obtaining permission to start work.

The City Council could approve a final plan for the plant this year.

Councilor Brad Ness said the findings show the wastewater treatment plant is safe.

“Most of it was positive,” he said of the report. “We’ve made the changes to improve the systems.”

“It was well-done,” he added of the report. “It was a good presentation that we had Tuesday.”

In April 2019, the city issued a request for proposals for the plant operational analysis, but no proposals were received. In September, the city executed the agreement with Jacobs.

In October, the firm conducted a site visit and onsite interviews. The first draft of the assessment report was released in February.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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