ELLSWORTH, Maine — The city is saying goodbye to ‘baleful odors’ and dirty sewage discharge as it completes the transition from its former sewer plant downtown to its new, modern plant a few miles away.
Despite a last-minute snag regarding wastewater chlorination, the city flipped the proverbial switch recently to direct Ellsworth’s waste to the new $21 million plant on Bayside Road. Now, crews are beginning to drain and clean up the former wastewater treatment facility so it can be demolished next spring.
“It’s been eight years since we were told we had to build a new plant, so it definitely feels good” to make the switch, said City Manager Michelle Beal on Monday. She referred to a 2006 directive from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which threatened to halt new development in the city because of problems with the old facility.
The new plant doubles the city’s wastewater capacity and eliminates the dumping of untreated waste into the Union River after heavy rain or snowmelt. The old system couldn’t handle the influx of stormwater after those weather events, and any overflow went straight into the river before it ever had a chance to be treated.
Perhaps most relieving to residents and shoppers downtown, though, is the fact that the plant’s relocation and upgrade means no more gut-wrenching stench drifting toward Main Street and the city’s residential core.
Those airs were associated with the sludge-drying process at the old plant, and while there will be some smells associated with the cleanup and demolition of that facility — the “good” bacteria used in water sanitation isn’t exactly a neutral smell — it will be nothing compared to the old odor.
“There may be a slight earthy smell [as the old plant is cleaned out],” Beal said, “but there won’t be that terrible odor. That smell is definitely gone.”
Final adjustments and tweaks are still being made at the new plant, said Wastewater Superintendent Mike Harris on Monday, including unexpected preparations to chlorinate the city’s effluent year-round. Effluent is the final discharge from the plant into the watershed after the waste is processed.
The city had planned to chlorinate only half the year, partially because winter river conditions make the process less necessary and because the new plant is more efficient, Harris said. But a few days before the new plant came online, the city got word it would need to chlorinate the effluent all year.
That kicked off a last-minute scramble to calibrate the plant for constant chlorination, he said.
“We had the equipment in place, it just wasn’t set up and programmed because we were under the belief we wouldn’t be doing it until June,” he said. “So it hadn’t been high on the priority list.”
Harris said the Portland engineering firm Woodard & Curran is working on bid documents for the old wastewater treatment plant’s demolition. Those plans will be refined through the winter, he said, and the city hopes to begin the deconstruction in the spring.
The old plant is located next to the city’s Harbor Park and Marina, and while no firm plans are yet in place, the city hopes to use the land to extend the park after the facility is demolished.
Micki Sumpter, the city’s economic development coordinator, said the space will definitely be used to expand the park, but exactly what that expansion looks like will take time to work out.
“After the plant is gone, we’ll look at it, bring the harbor commission together and talk to the community and see where to go from there,” she said.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.