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Shepherdstown dedicates new high-tech sewage treatment plant

October 27, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — In 1980, Shepherdstown opened its first public sewage treatment plant, and for the first time in the town’s history, it stopped dumping raw sewage into the Potomac River.

The town reached another milestone Friday, when it dedicated a new ultramodern, high-tech $10.1 million sewage treatment plant that doubles the capacity of the old plant to 800,000 gallons per day as well as meets new federal mandates to protect the Chesapeake Bay.

West Virginia’s eight easternmost counties are under the same mandate. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill that was shepherded through the Legislature by state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley, for a $100 million bond issue to help the affected counties modernize their systems.

Shepherdstown jumped the gun in 2003, when the town council voted to begin a series of planned rate increases in the coming years to cover the eventual cost of construction, Mayor Jim Auxer told the 30 people who attended Friday’s dedication ceremony.

Auxer said the town’s share of the project’s cost, about $9.2 million, was secured through a 30-year, interest-free loan that will save the town about $5 million in interest charges.

No new rate hikes will be needed for the new plant. The current residential minimum charge for sewer service is $34.44 per month.

Auxer said design work for the new plant didn’t begin until 2007, when the town hired Chapman Technical Group, a St. Albans, W.Va., engineering firm, with Jeff Ekstrom as project manager. The old plant kept running during construction, Ekstrom said.

Sewage from the town’s lines and those of Shepherd University are piped by gravity to a pumping station on North Princess Street. Machinery in the new plant takes it from raw sewage to nearly nitrogen- and phosphorous-free effluent, which ends up back in the Potomac River.

Ekstrom displayed a model of the final filtration system that showed a bottle of filthy gray water on the intake side and one resembling a store-bought bottle of drinking water on the effluent side.

“The old plant worked, but not as well as this one does,” said Frank Welch, director of public works.

Shepherdstown was fined $33,870 in September by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection after a series of inspections in June, December and March found violations of the old plant’s discharging permit, specifically sending discolored water into the Potomac River, and failure to maintain clarifiers and contact chambers. A February review of the plant’s records from January through December 2011 showed 18 violations.

Auxer signed off on the notice of compliance Sept. 13, DEP records showed.

“The violations occurred during construction of the new plant,” Welch said. “It was hard to run the old plant and keep everything going perfectly during that time. It just couldn’t be done.”

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