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Vader discusses engineer's report for new sewer plant options

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The City of Vader is close to selecting an upgrade for its sewer plant after an engineering report identified several possible options capable of bringing the city into compliance with state regulations.

Vader's current lagoon system has been suffering from frequent violations of its discharge permit, as the purity of effluent expelled into Olequa Creek often does not meet Department of Ecology standards, and Vader has been seeking since 2009 to find options for a low-cost, effective upgrade.

Such efforts have recently included pursuing an experimental treatment system from startup company Blue Array, who began working with Vader in 2011 and at one time promised to provide the city a free plant, but this option was eliminated after Blue Array folded in January due to an inability to meet its financial obligations.

Since then, the city has restarted the process of identifying a system that would best suit its needs, and seven such options were put before officials during the Aug. 14 meeting of the Vader City Council.

"Basically, they start around $4 million, and the Cadillac of the group was around $13 million," reported Council Member Kevin Flynn, who was acting as mayor pro-tem that night in the absence of Mayor Ken Smith.

The potential options, prepared by engineering firm BHC Consultants, included upgrades to the current lagoon system, a new activated sludge system and even a new membrane bioreactor (the $13 million option) similar to the plant currently used in Winlock.

Of the seven options, BHC Consultants identified two they felt were best-suited to the wastewater and financial needs of Vader: a $3.46 million upgrade of the current lagoon system with $60,000 in annual upkeep, and a $3.66 million in-ground activated sludge system with $105,000 in annual upkeep.

Upgrades to the lagoon would involve installing new, more powerful aerators from Blue Frog, as well as re-digging one of the three lagoons, and re-installing two lagoon liners. It also recommended the city extend the discharge location from Olequa Creek to the Cowlitz River, as the discharge standards for this body of water are less strict than in the creek. The proposed line extensions would run from the sewer plant along 8th St. past Westside Hwy. and into the river by way of Enchantment Ln., at a potential cost of $920,000.

A new activated sludge plant would retain one of the lagoons for sludge storage and involve the construction of clarifiers for mechanical sludge processing, but would not require an extension of the outflow location.

While the recommendation did indicate an upgrade to the lagoon system would be a clear financial alternative, it also indicated the state is trending toward stricter discharge standards for chemicals such as mercury and copper, and a change in policy could potentially mean a need for additional filtration costs.

If stricter standards are set in place, stated the recommendation, a lagoon upgrade would cost $4.5 million to build and $74,000 annually to maintain, while a new activated sludge plant would cost $4.8 million to build, including an extension of the outflow to the Cowlitz River, and $74,000 annually to maintain, at which time the engineers indicated either option would be financially-viable.

Flynn said, if state regulations do change, the city may not be in a position to comply with them all at once, and said Vader has approached Ecology with the idea of upgrading the system in phases, hoping the Blue Frog aerators may give the plant the boost in compliance it needs.

"There's a possibility we could phase the Blue Frog in," said Flynn, "and test and monitor that to see if it does what we expect it to do and what Blue Frog says it will do...We just don't have the money, and we can't charge the people what they want us to charge, for everything they want us to put in."

Council members indicated they were in support of seeking a phase-in option, while Council Member Andy Wilson additionally said he was concerned about the plan to extend the outflow to the Cowlitz River, stating the associated pump station would be in a potential landslide hazard area. Flynn said the city did not have to follow such plans to the letter but could work with engineers to find a solution.

The council did not select an option from the list of recommendations that night but indicated they wish to speak further with engineers and state officials. Once a recommendation is chosen, plans specific to the upgrade would be drafted and the project would go out for bids.

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