August 29, 2014

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Tour highlights efforts to reduce the smell at Sheffield wastewater treatment plant

SHEFFIELD — Attendees of Thursday’s tour of the biogas energy facility at the French Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant knew it would stink, but that goes with the territory.

Sewage, or sludge, is the term for the human waste that gets treated at the plant before being converted by the facility — run by Quasar Energy Group — into methane gas.

The purpose of the tour was to give residents a better idea about $600,000 worth of pipe repairs at the plant, which are expected to begin in the fall or spring, and to show how the Quasar facility works to produce renewable energy, reduce sludge storage and the ensuing stink.

But, as was evident Thursday, the smell will not be completely eliminated.

“You certainly want to try to do that, but there are always going to be times when something’s going to happen and, unfortunately, it does,” said Jeffry Armbruster, safety-service director of North Ridgeville, which owns the plant. “It’s no different than somebody using the bathroom in your home and somebody else using the bathroom in your home. You’ve got an exhaust fan, (but) sometimes it’s not nice when you go in it.”

The tour was also a chance to discuss how odor problems are being reduced and to improve communication between residents and village, plant and Quasar officials.

“We’re working on resolving issues,” Sheffield Mayor John Hunter said. “Sometimes we have to be a little aggressive about it, (but) most of the time cooperation gets it done.”

The 80-acre plant, which opened in 1975, can process up to 11.2 million gallons of wastewater per day, according to Lou Colvert, plant assistant superintendent. It processes about 6 million gallons on an average day. The plant serves Avon, North Ridgeville and Sheffield.

Regional sewer district proponents have proposed a $215 million upgrade allowing Amherst, Lorain, the Lorain County Rural Wastewater District, Sheffield Lake and Vermilion to tap into the plant, saying it would save money, but Hunter said, “it will be a cold day in hell” when that happens. Hunter said he supports regionalism, but odor problems need to be reduced first.

“I don’t want it to be a bigger problem,” he said.

The facility, which opened in August but didn’t begin running until February, can process up to 42,000 tons of waste annually and processes about 120 tons per day, according to Alan Johnson, Quasar vice president of management. The facility includes a 230,000-gallon, 40-foot high feed stock tank and a 750,000-gallon, 35-foot high digester tank. Johnson said the facility, along with plants in Ashley, Cleveland, Columbus, Haviland, Wooster and Zanesville, plus one in Massachusetts and two in New York, produce enough methane converted into electricity to power 6,000 homes annually.

Hunter said the facility has reduced the amount of sludge that had to be trucked out of the plant by about 80 percent. About 15 truckloads per day have been reduced to about two per day.

While there was a foul odor around parts of the facility Thursday, Hunter said the stink is way down since sludge stored during the winter was processed.

“While we are very interested about where these odors are coming from, we are pretty confident they are not coming from here,” Johnson said.

Tim Murphy, facility manager, said he spends a few hours per day making sure the facility is clean.

“I take my job very seriously and I do clean this place constantly,” he said.

Burrell Drive resident Mike Joris, who has lived near the plant since 2003, took part in the tour. Joris said he thinks Hunter has done a good job of getting odors reduced, and he likes the idea that the facility is producing renewable energy.

However, Joris said North Ridgeville should more strictly regulate the plant to reduce the stink.

“When you’re getting wind from the lake, it’s putrid,” he said.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.