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Treatment plant draws kudos

October 06, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

SMITHSBURG - Rick Stevens likes the fact that few people are aware - either by sight or smell - of the location of the wastewater treatment plant that serves Smithsburg.

"We constantly test, monitor and check everything that goes on at this plant," said Stevens, who is the chief plant operator.

Stevens, 48, has been at the helm of the plant since 1991, one year after it was purchased from the Town of Smithsburg and upgraded by what is now the Department of Water Quality of Washington County. Stevens worked at the old plant, too.

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This year, the Smithsburg operation earned an award for excellence from Aqua-Aerobics Systems Inc., a major supplier of treatment plant components. Based in Illinois, the firm has honored the plant every year since 1999, Stevens said.

A little closer to home, Jim Bishop, deputy director of the Department of Water Quality, said Stevens and his employees are doing a great job at the plant.

"We've had some tremendous flows from rain through this plant but it has never been out of compliance," Bishop said during a recent visit to Smithsburg. "There has never been an odor at the plant and Rick is the reason for that."

Currently, Stevens' crew consists of Jason Kline, operator 1; and Brandon Shoemaker, a trainee. They work at the plant, which is off Leitersburg-Smithsburg Road just west of the Whispering Hills development.

"The system here is a sequencing batch reactor," Stevens said. "It is an advanced system which allows us to do nutrient removal."

Rated for 333,000 gallons of wastewater a day, the system currently treats a little more than that but is well within compliance, Stevens said. In addition to Smithsburg, the plant treats waste from Cavetown and Village Square.

Stevens said the daily flow through the plant has averaged 345,000 gallons since 2003.

Stevens agreed with Bishop that the biggest problem faced at the plant is heavy rains that infiltrate the sewer system and boost the amount of material flowing into the plant for treatment.

"Upgrades have been made to this system as we try to make things better," Stevens said. "And I'm not afraid to call an engineer in if I think it is necessary."

If there is a major storm, Stevens said he will respond to the plant to make sure all is well. A power outage likewise gets his attention, as an alarm goes off in his home and either he or one of his operators goes in to activate the generator at the plant to run key functions until power is restored.

"The (personnel) of the Town of Smithsburg are very supportive. We work well together," Stevens said, noting that he keeps in regular contact with the public works department in Smithsburg.

Over the years, Stevens has taken advantage of continuing education provided by Washington County. "There is a lot of biology involved," Stevens said, pointing to a chart on the wall. The chart displays some of the microorganisms that can be present in wastewater.

"I show up every day and do the best I can," Stevens said. "On a normal day, anyone could do this job, but on those other days, you have to know what you are doing."

"He does an excellent job," Bishop said.

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