On the Right Track by Anthony Moy
Since its inception in 1939, the Authority has been challenged with meeting the increasing demands of a growing community by making all the necessary upgrades and expansions to the wastewater treatment plant. While some past plant modifications have been made to accommodate the area’s growth, most of the upgrades have been a direct result of state and federal mandates.
Regardless of why upgrades are needed, they are costly and can result in the authority’s having to increase sewer rates. Asking the users of the system to help foot the bill for upgrades is not our choice; unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil that must be done to help offset the substantial debt that is incurred from a project, especially a major one.
While the authority is confident that the history of the plant won’t repeat itself, it may be beneficial to recap the major upgrades and expansions that have occurred throughout the years, as they shed light on the challenges we’ve been up against throughout the years and why increases have been inevitable. Although there have been many, many more projects than what are listed here, below is an overview of some of the milestone projects the Authority has been required to undertake since the plant was first built.
1944 – The Manheim Borough’s wastewater treatment plant was built. The plant consisted of a primary clarifier, trickling filter, and chlorine disinfection.
1960s – The Authority expanded the plant with an additional clarifier in the late 1960s, the plant’s first major expansion to meet a growing population since it was built.
1970s – In the early 1970s an interceptor, which extended to a small portion of Penn Township, added 148 equivalent dwelling units (EDUs) to the plant’s capacity.
1980s- A growing Manheim Borough began to put heavier demands on the plant. The plant finally reached maximum treatment capacity. By the late 1980s, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) issued a sewer moratorium on the plant, which prohibited the Authority from adding any more EDUs and halted additional sewer hookups. If the plant was to accommodate the growth that was occurring in the Borough, it would need to be significantly upgraded. Before going to the expense of any upgrade, however, the Authority called for a series of engineering studies to be conducted to determine the most appropriate and cost-effective method for meeting PADEP’s regulatory requirements.
1990s – Having no choice but to comply with PADEP’s mandates, in 1993 the Authority undertook its first major upgrade of the plant since the 1960s. The 1993 upgrades cost $18 million and consisted of additional primary clarifiers, nitrification towers, secondary clarifiers, and chlorine facilities. Unfortunately, grants to potentially offset the huge price tag were not pursued, and the project was funded by a bond issue. Sewer rates were increased.
2000s – In 2001, the Authority changed from a financing authority to become a full-fledged operating authority; we also began providing services to Penn and Rapho Townships. Additionally, years of pollution in the form of nitrogen and phosphorous were taking its toll on the Chesapeake Bay’s water quality. Although rate users were still paying down the debt generated from the 1993 upgrades, in 2005 PADEP issued new, stricter regulations limiting the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous a wastewater plant located within the Chesapeake Bay watershed can release. In 1993, regulations did not require the plant upgrade to provide for total nitrogen and total phosphorus reduction.
To determine the most cost effective measures for meeting Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategy, the Authority commissioned a feasibility study in 2006.
The study—which suggested that the upgrades may cause sewer rates to double over the next five years—proposed several options. One option was to avoid any upgrades to the plant by participating in Pennsylvania’s Nutrient Credit Trading Program. After further research, the cost of purchasing nutrient credits proved potentially more costly than making the upgrade itself.
Given a deadline of 2012 from PADEP to complete the upgrades, the Authority feared that the only way the project—estimated at $14 million—could be funded was to increase sewer rates. Users were urged to contact their legislators so that state and federal funding would be made available.
The Authority worked with its engineer (RETTEW) to obtain funding. To offset the cost of the project and potential sewer rate hikes to users of the system, the Authority applied for and secured a $4.3 million grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) through its H20 PA Program. The funding we received—one of the largest CFA grants awarded in Lancaster County—enabled the Authority to avoid significant rate increases to sewer users.
2010s – The Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) upgrades were completed in 2011 and within PADEP’s deadline. With the help of its engineer, the Authority was able to carefully manage the construction of the project and control costs. Upgrades included design and construction of a phased oxidation ditch, two additional final clarifiers, an additional chemical feed system, new return and waste activated sludge pumps, variable frequency drives, and a biosolids storage building. The newly upgraded wastewater treatment plant is rated at 2.3 million gallons a day.
Although the Authority feared that the BNR upgrades would require user rates to increase by as much as 100 percent, the H20 grant and careful management helped to offset rate increases. While the Authority has had no choice but to increase sewer rates to pay for the recent BNR upgrades, over the past five years increases have totaled less than originally anticipated and as was noted in the 2006 feasibility study.
To further control operating expenses, as of January 2012 the Authority ended its 12-year contract with Miller Environmental, Inc. The Authority now operates the plant, which has enabled us to employ our own staff and trim costs.
The Future – With the recent upgrades completed and the Authority’s ending its contract with Miller Environmental, we anticipate that any future rate increases will be made only when there are changes in operating costs. Now more than ever, the Authority is taking a much more proactive approach to managing our day-to-day operations, controlling costs, and identifying and planning for any additional state or federal mandates well in advance. Besides keeping the plant under tight management, we will also be looking at ways to be mindful of the environment. The Authority is exploring alternative energy solutions through green initiatives. We will be evaluating energy co-generation using the methane gas produced on site by the anaerobic digestion process, as well as looking at other energy conservation and generation potential.
As you can see, the past 70 years have been full of challenges for the Authority. We’ve been up against some aggressive state and federal mandates and have had to manage growth, both of which have required us to make costly upgrades to the system and be a more reactive organization than a proactive one. The current rate structure is designed to accommodate the current debt load, however, and will be carefully managed moving forward. Be assured that the Authority will continue to proactively manage growth and changing regulations in order to minimize the impacts to its users.