Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Written 2/6/2008

County Admits Problems at Calls Creek

In a conversation with me following the meeting of the Board of Commissioners last night, Oconee County Public Works Director Emil Beshara confirmed that the County is having serious problems with the cost of operating the Calls Creek sewage plant, and this is the motivation for seeking an alternative design for the proposed Rocky Branch upgrade.

Beshara said the decision of the County to insert the design option into the November 16, 2007, Request for Proposal for the Rocky Branch upgrade was the result of his input and that of John Hatcher, the Oconee County Utility Department director. That design option calls for a more traditional type of biological treatment followed by membrane filtration.

The County specified in its application to the state for a permit to discharge up to 1 million gallons per day of effluent from the Rocky Branch plant into Barber Creek that it would use the same design as it currently is using at Calls Creek.

That design is the vertical loop reactor and membrane biological reactor. The second design is called a suspended growth biological process for secondary treatment with tertiary membrane filtration.

Beshara confirmed that the second design is more traditional, possibly using standard procedures such as aeration to stimulate bacterial breakdown of the sewage, followed by membrane filtration. The first design combines the filtration and the biological reaction.

Beshara said the Calls Creek plant is being forced to replace membranes much more frequently than had been promised and that electrical costs for operation of the plant are higher than expected. The membranes are supposed to last five years, he said, but the County is replacing them every "few" months.

The is confirmation of what bidders for the upgrade to Rocky Branch said in the first round of bidding.

Carter & Sloope said it the closing comments of its bid that "It is our understanding that the County is having some concerns about the long-term O&M (Operating and Maintenance) expenses of membrane treatment plants."

Prior to this conversation, which Beshara initiated, the County never has acknowledged that there were any problems with the Calls Creek plant and has consistently touted its design as a model for such plants.

Beshara said he believes the County can produce as high of a quality of water with the alternate design as with the original. Since the County has not allowed citizen examination of the bids or even of the Selection Committee evaluation of those bids, it is impossible to know at this point what the bidders proposed or believed they could produce with the alternate design.

Beshara said the County allowed the bidders to propose alternatives for the biological process, as long as they included membrane filtration.

He credited the Friends of Barber Creek’s pressure on the BOC with making impossible for the County to abandon membranes, which the County tried to do in the first round of bidding.

"I had always been instructed that it would use membrane filtration," he said. Beshara joined the County after the first round of bidding had been completed and discarded.

The Selection Committee for the bids, appointed by the Board of Commissioners to evaluate the bids, has selected three firms for consideration: Brown and Caldwell of Atlanta, HSF Engineering of Snellville, and Wiedeman & Singleton of Atlanta.

Jimmy Parker from County consultant Precision Planning Inc., who chairs the Selection Committee, announced at the January 29 meeting that the Selection Committee will meet with bidders in the middle of this month.

Tonight I wrote a letter to BOC Chairman Melvin Davis asking to be informed of the time, date and place of the meeting so I can attend. I was denied access to an earlier meeting of the Selection Committee on January 4 and have filed a complaint with the state attorney general regarding that denial.

At the BOC meeting last night, I made a statement to the Board indicating why access to those bids is so important for anyone concerned about the County’s plans for the Rocky Branch sewage treatment plant.

As soon as I finished my statement, the Board, without response or comment, adjourned the meeting.

1 comment:

CAH said...

Mr. Beshara is to be commended for his commitment to open and transparent local government. As the people who pay for the costly operation of these facilities through our taxes, we have every right to know how well the current plants are operating -- and the details of the choices that are being made about the future. Unfortunately, Chairman Davis and others at the County seem to believe that keeping the taxpayers in the dark about how their money is being spent is good government. Fortunately, it's an election year.