Bellefonte’s wastewater treatment plant is in need of a $6.6 million upgrade, and a team of engineers came before Borough Council on Monday to explain why.
Robert Decker and Chuck Thompson, of Nittany Engineering & Associates, presented a report detailing why the borough’s plant needs to be updated.
“It’s a function of what this treatment plant can handle, and we’re getting close with peak loads,” said Decker. “Organic loading has increased significantly at the plant — within our loading criteria and meting limits — but it has increased.”
The plant has two main issues, primarily related to its 25-year-old equipment. Rotating biological contactors, part of a biological treatment process, are failing and its activated sludge system, which treats sewage and industrial wastewater using air and a biological floc, is at risk of exceeding its capacity.
“It’s not that it doesn’t meet limits right now so much as that you’ve got RBCs that have failed and an AS system that’s full — and at some point you will be outside the limits,” Thompson said. “We prefer to be proactive.”
The engineers presented two options: replace the existing equipment and add an additional activated sludge tank or implement a new system, the BioMag process, for treatment.
Decker and Thompson said the BioMag process stands reasonably apart as a front-runner from a general performance and cost standpoint.
Thompson said they looked into cost of purchase and maintenance for 20 years and the BioMag system came out on top.
“It provides additional capacity going forward. ... It essentially provides another 20 years of growth,” Thompson said.
Council member Paul DeCusati had some concerns about who was paying for the upgrades.
“I’m about this plan, I understand we need the upgrades,” DeCusati said. “… (Bellefonte) residents end up with the financial burden. If these other streams are causing rapid demise of equipment, it’s logical that they help to cover those costs.”
DeCusati said Bellefonte residents pay much more for their water treatment than do residents from Benner and College townships.
“I have to justify that to my residents, and I find it hard to do it,” he said.
However, borough Manager Ralph Stewart said the main problem is not sewage flow from other townships.
“Age is really the issue, it’s not the increased flow primarily,” Stewart said. “These things are 25 years old, that’s the main issue.”
Decker added that the plant needs to be upgraded in order to serve the residents.
“One thing that’s important to remember: This plant is owned and operated by the Bellefonte Authority. Right now this has been delayed for quite a while, and the RBCs are falling apart literally,” Decker said. “If we let this go, there are going to be fines from (state Department of Environmental Protection). We’re responsible to maintain the plant.”
Warren Miller, executive director of Spring-Benner-Walker Joint Authority, said he opposes the plan to institute the BioMag system.
“We concede that some or all RBCs are old and in need of repair or replacement,” Miller said. “… But the recommended upgrades and expansion with BioMag comes with a very high price tag.”
Miller asked that the Bellefonte Borough Authority identify less expensive alternatives for the treatment plant.
“It is clear to see that this project is unnecessary and should be abandoned in favor of replacement of RBCs instead of the BioMag system,” he said.
However, DeCusati said with seven of 21 RBCs out of commission, it is an immediate issue that needs to be addressed.
Former council member and current water authority member Frank Halderman said despite SBWJA’s concerns, the Bellefonte Authority’s study was conducted with residents’ interests in mind.
“Bellefonte Borough Authority members have done their due diligence on picking this system based on what’s best for the residents,” he said.
The council voted 5-2 to approve a guarantee ordinance for financing the project, allowing the process to move forward. The deal will not close until mid-May, at earliest.
The BioMag system revised study will be available for public comment this week, Thompson said. It will be available at the borough office for 30 days and after considering public comment, it will be sent to DEP for review.
If DEP approves the study, Decker said, the borough will be required to follow through with the recommendations.
“We’re comfortable, we have a good solution and we’re ready to act on it,” Thompson said.