$60 million in sewer plant upgrades, work at Swifts Beach needed, engineers say

Jul 13, 2022

The sewer moratorium on new hook-ups won’t be lifted until at least one major project is done, engineers hired by the town reported to the Select Board on Tuesday night.

Russ Kleekamp, Sara Greenberg and Marc Drainville of GHD engineering and Guy Campinha, the head of the Water Pollution Control Facility met with the board to explain the moratorium, what work needs to be done and how much it will cost — and to argue that now is the best time to take action to save some money.

As the engineers explained it: The Sewer Commissioners issued a moratorium back in May, as the Water Pollution Control Facility was using 80% of its permitted capacity on an average day. The plant can only discharge a certain amount of clean, treated water into the Agawam River. When a plant’s average daily use and its committed flows (capacity promised to future projects) add up to 80 percent, that means the town must take action to increase capacity or face a host of fines and other consequences from the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. 

Kleekamp explained that the threshold for action is 80 percent because the facility needs that overflow capacity for times of heavy rain, when stormwater makes its way into the system through cracked pipes, illegal sump pump or by other means. 

Additionally, the group reported, the treatment plant is aging, and two key pieces of equipment are corroded and malfunctioning in ways that cause a cascade of problems through the system.

Therefore, the engineers recommended a trio of projects that will improve infrastructure and free up some capacity at the treatment plant for new hook-ups. 

Upgrades at the Water Pollution Control Facility: Two major pieces of equipment are so damaged that these repairs should be first priority, the group said. The first piece of equipment, the headworks, is an early step in the cleaning process that screens out grit, sand and non-flushables like wipes and diapers. Campinha said that this process isn’t working well, so that material is causing problems later in the filtration system. In particular, grit is wearing down the propellers at the pumps and pipes.

The second piece of equipment that needs an upgrade is the clarifier, a later step in the treatment process that removes solids and nutrients by allowing them to settle. The clarifiers are too small for the amount of water the plant is treating, so solids are going downstream and causing problems.

Kleekamp said that the upgrades would be designed to make it easy to add more capacity in the future if the plant is granted permission to do so.

Expansion of upgrades in Swifts Beach: This project would expand the work funded by the town this spring. That project replaced the current system with a closed station that will cut down on infiltration of clean water and installed individual grinder pumps at each home, that will stop any non-flushables like wipes or diapers at the home, preventing them from jamming up the works later on.

That project covered about 120 homes. This would include 850 more homes in the area, which would remove about 220,000 gallons of clean water from entering the system each day — freeing up that capacity for new hook-ups.

Cost: The upgrades to the treatment plant will cost $40 million, and the Swifts Beach expansion will cost $20 million. 

Greenberg explained that now is a good time to act as the town qualifies for loans from the state at a 0-2% interest rate, with at least 9.9% principal forgiveness. And the recently passed federal infrastructure bill should increase that principal forgiveness amount.

The town could also apply for grants, including American Rescue Plan Act funds — the covid-19 relief bill passed last year.

In combination, those factors could save the town millions in loan repayment, Greenberg said.

The engineers suggested a timeline that would see the town approve design funds at this year’s fall Town Meeting and funding the work in spring 2023. If the town doesn’t take action, it could face fines and would be forced to complete projects to increase capacity, but without access to 0% interest rate loans and certain grants. 

Campinha said that anyone in the public can call to get a tour of the facility.