Wastewater plant upgrade moving forward

Tim Fristoe, wastewater manager for the Town of Front Royal, stands inside the dewatered sludge cake facility that is part of the $40 million upgrade at the plant. Construction is less than 15 percent complete to date and is scheduled to be completed in fall 2017. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Work on upgrades to the town’s wastewater treatment plant continues to move forward.

The town has embarked on a $53.3 million project aimed at improving the facility after spending years on designing the upgrades and finding funding sources. Front Royal officials broke ground on the project in June.

Tighter environmental regulations forced the town to upgrade the facility. Town Council in November approved a contract with Adams Robinson Enterprises of Dayton, Ohio, to build the project for $44.47 million.

The project has an expected completion date of October or November 2017. Parts of the upgrade will be put into use as they are completed, Wastewater Plant Manager Tim Fristeo said recently.

Crews had completed about 14 percent of the project, Fristoe said. Workers had nearly finished the construction of a drying area for sludge collected through the treatment process.

Fristoe said the drying area should be available before November. The sludge will be stored in a concrete bay covered by a metal roof. The dried “cake” can then be applied as fertilizer to agricultural land, Fristoe explained. The addition of the drying area means the plant will no longer apply dried sludge to the land around the facility as had been the practice for years.

“That’s one of the big benefits: we didn’t have enough sludge digestion down here,” Fristoe said.

The plant also takes into account the stricter rules on the release of nitrogen and phosphorous into the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. Growth of the town also plays a small role in the upgrade, Fristoe said.

The plant can release 4 million gallons of treated wastewater into the river per day, as allowed under its permit, though the facility can handle surges of up to 12 million gallons per day, Fristoe said. The upgrade will allow the town to increase that amount to 5.3 million gallons per day.

“A lot of people say ‘wow, that’s not much,'” Fristoe said.

The plant as it appears now opened in 1981. Many of its original structures and equipment remain in use, Fristoe said.

The town borrowed up to $50 million to cover the cost of the project. However, Front Royal’s cost should be closer to $37 million given that the town qualified for approximately $12 million in grants from the state’s clean water quality improvement fund. Front Royal also qualified to receive the loan at zero-percent interest to cover the remaining cost. The project cost includes a $2.25 million upgrade on the plant septage receiving station used to treat waste collected from septic systems in Warren County. The county will cover the cost of the septage station upgrade.

The town began working on the project design about seven years ago but pulled back when the economy soured. At the time the town couldn’t afford to move forward on the project and the state didn’t have the grant money to offer, Fristoe recalled.

“They probably did the wise thing to wait,” Fristoe said.

When the town resumed its work on the project, engineers gave officials several more options on how to design the upgrades. Fristoe recalled that one option appeared more cost effective. That option also showed promise from an operational standpoint that might help the town keep operators on staff.

“It’s hard to get an operator and retain one anymore with a license,” Fristoe said. “We train them. We send them to Northern Virginia. I’m lucky I can get one I can hold on to for five years. The money’s down there.”

It takes about three years to train a worker and keep him on long enough to become a licensed plant operator, Fristoe said.

“So it’s going to be a pretty automated plant,” Fristoe said. “Is it going to require a lot of skill? Not the skill it takes to run this one right now.”

Workers would still need to meet the same qualifications to operate the plant. They also would need to know how to fix the equipment should it fail, Fristoe said.

The design of the upgrade calls for the demolition of two plant structures, including a grit-collection chamber. The rest of the design allows for the reuse of existing structures that helps keep down the cost, Fristoe said.

“We’re reusing everything out there – either using it for the same purpose or retrofitted to a modern purpose and add some other things on to it,” Fristoe said.

“The electric bill’s going to go out the roof though,” Fristoe added.

The plant pays about $360,000 a year for electricity. Fristoe said he expects that to increase to about $500,000 with the upgrades.

“It takes electricity to operate one of these places,” Fristoe said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com