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Administration gets insider’s look at multi-million dollar plant

Explaining to both council members and new administration the solid and liquid processes of the operation, Marietta Wastewater Superintendent Steve Elliott was in his element this week.

“This is where the money has been going,” Elliott described as he first introduced the loud sludge-separation processes to his visitors at the wastewater treatment plant on East Eighth St.

Over the last decade, approximately $27 million in combined grants and loan funding have poured into upgrading the plant from processes last upgraded in 1987 or earlier.

Elliott walked Mayor Josh Schlicher, Safety-Service Director Steve Wetz, Assistant Safety-Service Director Jeff Skinner, and Marietta City Council members Bill Farnsworth, Cassidi Shoaf, Geoff Schenkel and Mike Scales through the plant, pointing out where renovations and new builds have occurred and putting visuals to the upcoming aeration system upgrade the legislators approved last week.

The aeration system’s upgrade was not part of the first three phases of plant renovations first funded in 2010 and soon to be completed this year, Elliott explained, because regulations on specific component removals from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency have tightened over the last decade.

“But now that we have a pretty good idea of what they want us doing there we can add this in and save on energy costs,” said Elliott.

The tour was more than just a dog and pony show of multi-million dollar investments over the last decade, it was at points interactive and hands-on.

“All of the climbing and stairs really hit home for me that there’s a lot more to it than just taking in city sewage,” reflected Wetz Tuesday. “I didn’t realize all of the components that go into that job.”

Wetz said using all of his senses, including hearing, helped solidify much of the recent conversations about degrading air lines buried to the aeration tanks.

“Seeing the bubbles in the ground and in the sidewalk coming up definitely visualized it for me, but then physically hearing the ground sounding like it was a pot of boiling water–that made it clear,” said Wetz.

Councilpersons Shoaf and Schenkel peppered Elliott with questions concerning the training that goes into running the different operations at the plant, noting Elliott’s long tenure beginning in 1988 with the city.

And the pair, alongside Farnsworth, stayed through the completion of the tour to discuss how stages of the plant’s renovation left open options for cost-effectiveness in later additions for the UV treatment.

Over the last decade, multiple grants/loan forgiveness or sponsorship of wetlands have offset some of the interest costs of renovating the plant, leveraged alongside an estimated 16 loans through the Water Pollution Control Loan Fund, Ohio Public Works Commission and Ohio Water Development Authority.

Many of those loans were combined or “rolled into” later loans from planning and design stages to further construction. Still, the amortization of city debt moving forward is a continued question raised in council meetings as additional plans for renovations to the city’s water treatment plant move forward this year, and both the administration and council consider how to spread an expected increase in water and sewer billing over time rather than spiking rates all at once.

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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