Sunday, September 02, 2007

Written 9-2-2007

Baiting with Membranes

For three years, Oconee County officials have touted in public meetings the membrane filtration technology for its proposed expansion of the Rocky Branch sewage plant, saying the technology will allow the County to discharge "near drinking level" quality water into Barber Creek.

The County told the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD) when it applied for its permit to discharge into Barber Creek that it would use the membrane filtration technology in the plant.

When, on June 29 of this year, it issued a Request for Proposal for engineering design and support for construction of the upgrade, the County said the upgraded plant would use membrane filtration to treat the sewage water passing through it.

Prior to the July 26, 2007, deadline for submission of bids, however, County officials told bidders the County was interested in using less sophisticated technologies for Rocky Branch.

Jordan Jones & Goulding (JJ&G), the bidder that Utility Department Director Chris Thomas has recommended to the Board of Commissioners, has proposed two alternatives to membrane filtration.

Thomas has informed Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis he wants to explore the alternatives JJ&G proposed to membrane filtration for Rocky Branch.

Chairman Davis has put a decision on the upgrade of the Rocky Branch sewage plant on the agenda for the Sept. 4 meeting of the Board of Commissioners.

That Thomas would pick JJ&G from among the three bidders probably should not have been a surprise. JJ&G, with headquarters in Norcross but a branch office on South Milledge avenue in Athens, partnered with Precision Planning Inc. (PPI) of Lawrenceville in preparing the Design Development Report (DDR) the County submitted to the EPD with its application for its Rocky Branch discharge permit.

The report specified the membrane filtration technology to be used at Rocky Branch.

JJ&G also was in charge of construction of the existing Rocky Branch facility, which sprays treated sewage water onto hayfields on site and does not have a permit to discharge into any stream.

In addition, JJ&G competed with PPI over reservoir proposals for Oconee County, with PPI proposing the Walton County Hard Labor Creek project and JJ&G proposing a reservoir in Oconee County on Barnett Shoals road. PPI won, and the Board of Commissioners is expected to vote on Sept. 4 on a contract with Walton County for the Hard Labor Creek reservoir.

Thomas asked two people from PPI to evaluate the three bids submitted on July 26 and included their scores for the bids in reaching his decision to recommend JJ&G.

At the BOC meeting of July 31, 2007, when Thomas announced that three bids had been received, he said the bids would be rated by PPI, the County’s Public Works department, the Utility Department assistant director, and himself.

The evaluators rated the bids on five criteria, as specified in the Request for Proposal.

The raters could give up to 15 points for qualifications, experience and office location of the project manager, up to 15 points for experience of the bidder in design and construction of upgrades and expansions of sewage plants, up to 15 points for the experience of the bidder with membrane filtration systems, up to 15 points for the bidders understanding and approach to the project, and up to 40 points for the costs.

Thomas received ratings from Jimmy Parker and Jim Sunta of PPI, Dan Wilson, the assistant county engineer, and from John Hatcher, the assistant Utility Department director.

Keck & Wood Inc. of Duluth had the low bid of $643,000 but also the lowest average score from the five raters: 67.6. (Thomas reported the score of 63 in an e-mail message he sent to Chairman Davis on August 2, 2007.) Carter & Sloope bid $690,000 and received an average rating of 77.6. JJ&G, with its bid of $680,580, received a score of 92.6.

Low bidder Keck & Wood got the highest ratings on cost (average of 40 out of 40 points), but the lowest ratings on each of the other four criteria. JJ&G beat out all bidders on qualifications, experience and office location of the project manager, experience of the bidder in design and construction of upgrades and expansions of sewage plants, and for the experience of the bidder with membrane filtration systems. It essentially was tied with Carter & Sloope on understanding and approach to the project. (The scores can be viewed here.)

In his e-mail message to Davis on Aug. 2, Thomas said that, based on the scores, "the review team recommends the use of JJ&G for the design of the upgrade to the Rocky Branch WRF." (WRF stands for water reclamation facility and is an alternative name for sewage treatment plant.)

Thomas also wrote that "There are a number of alternate design approaches," and he had asked Wayne Haynie, senior vice president of JJ&G, "to include a pricing clarification based on some of the different approaches."

As I explained in my posting on Aug. 18, 2007, Davis tried to get the Commissioners to act on Thomas’ recommendation of JJ&G at the August 7 BOC meeting. The minutes say, "By consensus, no action was taken on this matter." I could not attend the meeting, and I don’t know if Thomas gave any hint then that JJ&G actually was proposing alternatives to the membrane filtration system.

Haynie from JJ&G and Van Kile, senior project manager, in their cover letter for their bid, said they were "delighted" to learn that Oconee County was willing to consider alternatives to membrane filtration for Rocky Branch. Haynie and Kile said they learned of this "flexibility in your thinking" at "the preproposal conference."

Haynie was one of 16 persons present at a "Pre-Submittal Conference" held on July 19, 2007, according to records given to me by the County. The official agenda for that meeting makes no reference to alternatives to membrane filtration.

The Request For Proposal, which specifies bid requirements, said: "Oconee County is committed to incorporating advanced technologies in its wastewater collection and treatment strategies and, therefore, has designated that the Rocky Branch WRF upgrade include membrane filters." (P. 7)

In the cover letter, Haynie wrote: "We know that you do not necessarily need a membrane plant to produce reuse water. Therefore, we are proposing a plant design that will provide you the following benefits:

"Lower energy consumption, allowing for lower annual operating costs.

"Easily expandable, because of common wall construction and site layout.

"Convertible to membranes in the future as discharge limits tighten."

According to the proposal, the membrane filtration system has three advantages over alternatives. It requires little space. It provides "an additional barrier to fecal coliform, cryptosporidium, and giardia, which results in more reliable disinfection." And it "will meet more stringent requirements without additional capital expense."

The EDP permit issued for Rocky Branch expires on March 29, 2012, and the County will have to seek reissuance of a permit for operation beyond that date. Standards could be changed.

JJ&G lists four disadvantages of the membrane technology: higher capital costs, higher energy costs, periodic membrane replacement, and the relative novelty of the technology.

It proposes as alternatives an "oxidation ditch process" and a "fill-and-decant activated sludge system." Both would require upgrading to meet more stringent effluent requirements, according to the proposal.

In the public presentations on the proposed Rocky Branch upgrade, County officials have praised the County’s only other sewage plant, which is on Calls Creek near Watkinsville. That plant used membrane filtration, and the County has held it up as a model. No problems with the plant have been mentioned publicly.

The JJ&G proposal, however, said that the County has experienced "unreliable water quality using membranes at Calls Creek." (P. 10)

JJ&G acknowledges that the Design Development Report (which it co-authored with PPI) has been reviewed and approved by EPD, but it said it is prepared to revise a DDR for submittal to EPD.

Keck & Wood, with two representatives at the Pre-Submittal Conference on July 19, did not include any alterative to membrane filtration it its bid.

Carter & Sloope also had one person at that meeting. The firm noted in its application that it understood that the Rocky Branch expansion was for a plant with a capacity of 1 million gallons per day (MGD) of capacity and that the proposal should allow for expansion to 2 MGD.

The Request for Proposal (RFP) asked bidders to prepare for expansion to 2 MGD. Carter & Sloope also note that it understood that the "ultimate build-out" of the plant could be 4 MGD, something the County has not openly acknowledged in the past.

Carter & Sloope submitted its bid based on "membrane technology as outlined in the RFP and DDR."

Carter & Sloope added: "It is our understanding that the County is having some concerns about the long-term O&M expenses of membrane treatment plants." It noted that it uses a disk filtration technology at the plant it designed for Barrow County, the only sewage plant currently discharging into Barber Creek.

Carter & Sloope cautions Oconee County, however, that while it would be willing to propose an alternative design to the County, the switch in technologies "may be a tough sell politically to the general public since Rocky Branch Water Reclamation Facility was predicated on membrane technology. Carter & Sloope attended all of the Oconee County public meetings and is aware of the public interest in this project."

The Carter & Sloope proposal contains another interesting observation:

"Sewer service is the catalyst to ignite the growth (in the County) and sustain it. While the economic impact may be positive, the impact on the natural resources of Oconee County and its infrastructure will be tremendous. To mitigate those impacts, adequate plans–a vision, if you will–must be put into place that will help Oconee County meet its current and future wastewater needs."

Oconee County has never adopted a wastewater master plan, though it hired a firm to do one for it. The first draft was produced in March of 2004. The second and final was produced in Feb. of 2005.

Both drafts recommended that the County begin shifting its waste treatment capacity from Calls Creek and Barber Creek to the Oconee River.

Care to know the name of the firm that produced that wastewater master plan?

Yes, it was JJ&G.