Wastewater plant welcomes long-awaited $45 million upgrade

Tim Fristoe, wastewater manager for the Town of Front Royal, stands outside the town's new $45 million plant. The project, which started in April 2015, is now online. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – The Chesapeake Bay may get a bit cleaner thanks to the town’s updated wastewater treatment plant on Manassas Avenue.

Construction on the long-awaited $45 million upgrades, which will cut back on the plant’s discharge of unwanted chemicals, were recently completed about a decade after the idea was first floated.

Wastewater plant manager Tim Fristoe explained that after the economy “went south” in 2008, upgrade plans were put on hold for about two years. Finally, in April 2015, he said, construction was able to begin after designs were completed and grants were secured.

Fristoe said that construction was funded through $13 million in grants and a revolving Department of Environmental Quality loan that has zero percent interest for 13 years. He said the upgraded plant should have a useful life of 20 years but “of course if regulations change, that may change.”

Fristoe, who has worked at the plant for 38 years, said this was the plant’s first update since 1992. Just a few of the updates include a new electrical system, cleaning via magnets and UV lights, two new structures and retrofitting of old structures.

“This place, a lot of it is replicating what your body does. You eat something, you consume it, you’ve got to poop it out and get rid of it. That’s what my digestor process does,” Fristoe said.

He explained that most of the plant is automated and employees generally just check to make sure everything operates smoothly. The plant can be operated through a computer in the office and Fristoe said as soon as he upgrades to a smartphone, he will be able to oversee operations that way.

He explained that one major improvement with the upgrades is the ability to remove phosphorous and nitrogen from the water. State standards allow plants to discharge 48,729 pounds of nitrogen and 3,655 pounds of phosphorus annually.

In the two years priors to the updates, the plant exceeded its phosphorous limit by an average of about 21,000 pounds and its nitrogen limit by an average of about 2,100 pounds. In the first quarter of this year, however, Fristoe said that discharge numbers show that the plant is on pace to eliminate a significant amount of that discharge. So far this year the plant has discharged 14,392 pounds of nitrogen and 603 pounds of phosphorous.

The last upgrade to the plant was in 1992 when the primary environmental concern was ammonia. Fristoe said that focus has since shifted to the discharge of nitrogen and phosphorous. He said this is because the chemicals contribute to algae blooms forming in the Chesapeake Bay, which in turn kill aquatic life.

Town Manager Joe Waltz said it is a pleasure to see the plant’s completion and noted that it will now be able to eliminate that phosphorous and nitrogen while having the ability to treat 5.3 million gallons of water per day.

Mayor Hollis Tharpe seconded Waltz’s excitement that the plant will be able to treat more water while polluting the bay less. He added, “I’m thrilled that after three years of annoying the neighbors on Manassas Avenue that it’s over for them.”

With the new features up and running, Fristoe said the last hurdle to overcome is a 30-day performance test that will ensure all facets are operating smoothly. He explained that the test will ensure the town got what it paid for.

Correction: The headline of this story incorrectly referred to a “water plant” instead of a “wastewater plant.”