Fri, Sep 29, 2023
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Willapa Harbor Herald
Lewis County News
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(360) 942-3466 • PO Box 706, Raymond, WA 98577

Free sewer plants a reality, says Blue Array

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Four units of Blue Array’s portable wastewater treatment prototypes have been acting as a backup system for Vader’s aging sewer plant to test the ability of the units to keep up with Vader’s sewage needs. Even though the prototypes are not directly installed in the system, Blue Array owner James Reilly says it’s effect on the sewage in the old plant has brought the city in compliance with Department of Ecology standards for the first time in years.

Blue Array, the company which has been testing its portable sewage treatment technology in Vader since the end of last summer, has concluded their system not only works but could be inexpensive enough to offer to cities for free.

Co-owner James Reilly says the last several months have allowed his company to learn the portable systems, housed in shipping containers, are around one quarter the cost of original estimates to fabricate (roughly $400,000 rather than $2 million) and far less complex to maintain than expected.

Reilly, who owns Blue Array along with engineer Victoria Jelderks, said he hopes to help cities avoid the costly and time-consuming process of preparing a project to qualify for state loans and grants by simply giving the systems to municipalities for free and accounting for fabrication costs through a maintenance and operations contract.

"It’s so inexpensive for us to produce these systems," said Reilly, "the cost of waiting a year to get regulatory approval is substantially greater than the real-time cost for us to install these things and start generating revenue from people paying for their O’n’M costs."

Currently, if a city in Washington needs to ask the state for funding to build a new sewer plant, or other municipal facility, they must first update their Facilities Plan, which requires an engineering company to examine the needs and options of the community in a report which can cost multiple thousands of dollars (often through grants and loans from the state) and take several months to complete.

City leaders then select an option from the Facilities Plan and an engineering plan is drafted, which can cost close to $1 million (often through grants and loans from the state) and take at least a year to complete.

Once the project is "shovel-ready," the city can then apply for corresponding loans and grants to build the facility with no guarantee of funding, and may have to restart the process if too much time has passed between when the Facilities Plan was last updated and when applications were submitted.

Reilly said letting a city have a Blue Array system for no out-of-pocket costs eliminates these steps and could potentially save the a great deal of state resources, as well as costs for cities who do not have to pay back burdensome long-term loans.

"We can do this for every community going forward, assuming we have certain parameters involved," said Reilly, stating he plans to begin actively pursuing other communities in Lewis County in need of wastewater treatment upgrades, such as Toledo, who is preparing to commission engineers to build a new $9.6 million sewer plant.

But it remains unclear if the Department of Ecology (DOE) has signed off on Blue Array’s technology, having not offered an official response since hearing a presentation by Reilly Aug. 1. During the presentation, Reilly explained the system’s recent successes in bringing Vader into compliance with its wastewater discharge permit, which he said Vader had not been consistently in compliance with for the last several years.

In a statement given Monday, DOE Spokeswoman Linda Kent confirmed Vader had historically been out of compliance due to a lack of capacity to handle high-flow events as well as too high a concentration of impurities in its effluent, but said it remains the impression of her department that Blue Array is still in a testing phase and DOE has yet to conduct a detailed review of their data.

And a response from DOE will determine Vader’s next steps in their relationship with Blue Array, according to Mayor Ken Smith. While officials have cast no doubt on the claims made by Blue Array and have enjoyed a very supportive relationship with the company, Smith said DOE’s seal of approval will determine if Vader accepts an offer for a free system from Blue Array and said he hopes to hear back from officials within the coming weeks.

In the mean time, Reilly said he would not begrudge a request by DOE for additional information or engineering reports as he is confident in the system’s capabilities, and said the next step for Blue Array will be to install systems at a handful of local cities and work out the difficulties of maintaining multiple systems at once.

"You look at the economics of it, and clearly this can work," he said.

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