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Flushed with pride

Brattleboro celebrates its new wastewater treatment plant

BRATTLEBORO—It’s hard to say what is the bigger surprise — that the $32 million upgrade to the Brattleboro Wastewater Treatment Facility was done on time and under budget, or that the plant stayed in continuous operation throughout the more than two years it took to complete the final phase of the project.

Nevertheless, to Town Manager Barbara Sondag, that these two things did indeed happen was hardly a miracle.

“This project represents a lot of dedication by the town’s staff to work through some hard times,” Sondag said on Friday during the official dedication of the new plant. “It shows this town can do large infrastructure projects under budget and on time. The fact that the plant never shut down during the more than two years is truly remarkable. This did not happen by accident.”

“The cooperation on this project has been marvelous,” said Phil Chapman, chair of the Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrade Oversight Committee. “We hardly touched the contingency fund, and we didn’t cut any corners on the plant. The cooperation and pride by everyone is visible in every part of this project.”

Even Tropical Storm Irene, which flooded the Whetstone Brook watershed just days before the final stage of construction began, could not disrupt the project.

Vermont Agency of Natural Resources construction engineer Mike Carey said that the Brattleboro project had the smallest percentage of change orders of any major project he has seen in his 35 years with the state. He reiterated Chapman’s praise of the cooperation that made the project work.

“Everyone involved in this project sat in here every day and, when a problem came up, we figured out a way to solve it together,” said Carey.

That, he said, was due to the dedication and the experience of the staff running the wastewater plant, starting with Highway/Utilities Superintendent Rick Either, who stayed on past his official retirement last year to see this project through, and Wastewater Plant Operator Bruce Lawrence.

“We never had to shut down a day,” said Chapman. “The old and new plants dovetailed together nicely.”

Fitting it together

The project combined the old plant — which was built as a primary treatment facility in 1968 and got an addition to accommodate secondary treatment in 1984 — with the new plant, which uses the latest technologies to treat the wastewater.

Lawrence has worked for the town since the late 1960s, and is the only person in his department who has worked at all three wastewater plants.

“I’ll bet 90 percent of the people in Brattleboro don’t even know this plant exists,” he said.

But, he admitted, the reason why people have taken the plant for granted is because the staff that runs it has done its job without fanfare.

A new era

“This project takes wastewater treatment to a whole new level,” said Public Works Director Steve Barrett.

Back in the early 1960s, Brattleboro was still dumping raw sewage into the Connecticut River. A half century later, Barrett said the new plant is treating wastewater — and doing so by using less water and energy than before.

The plant is recycling methane gas to generate electricity. There are solar panels on the roof of the main office, and Barrett said he’d like to see the town install more solar panels on the wastewater plant’s grounds, or even a wind turbine, to provide power for the town.

Barrett said the plant is also re-using wastewater. “We were the biggest water users in town,” he said.

Senior Vice President Gene Forbes of Hoyle, Tanner & Associates of Burlington, the project engineer, said that Brattleboro’s plant is so advanced and environmentally friendly that others in the region will study it for years to come.

According to Selectboard Chair Dick DeGray, the greatest payoff will be the economic boost that the plant provides to the town.

Sondag said that when large businesses want to come to Brattleboro, one of the first questions they ask is whether the town can handle large amounts of wastewater. With the new plant online, Sondag said the town can answer that question with a confident yes.

For DeGray, who is stepping down from the Selectboard after seven years, Friday’s ceremony closed a circle.

“One of the first things I did as a new Selectboard member was take a tour of this plant,” he said. “Now, I’m proud to be ending my time on the board seeing this project finished.”

Not to mention getting the honor of cutting the ribbon — or, more accurately, the roll of toilet paper — to officially open it.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #196 (Wednesday, March 27, 2013).

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