Town solving sludge problem

pseligson@newsobserver.comJanuary 13, 2014 

Smithfield has found a cheaper solution to the sludge problem at its water-treatment plant.

In the treatment process, Smithfield uses a chemical called alum. But using the chemical creates a byproduct that has piled up, literally, at the town’s treatment plant.

Also, while state standards say the level of alum byproduct in Smithfield’s water is safe, the County of Johnston, a Smithfield water customer, has higher standards. That’s because the county has to transport water longer distances to its customers, and over long hauls, the byproduct can build up.

The county had been buying about $650,000 anually in water from the town. But the county stopped buying water from the town last August, when a new testing regimem showed that the byproduct in Smithfield’s water exceeded the county’s standard.

To solve the problem, the town is switching to a different cleaning chemical called ferric sulfate. But that chemical is more expensive to purchase and creates even more sludge, which has to be moved off site.

At the Town Council’s October meeting, then-public utilities director Earl Botkin estimated that switching chemicals and transporting the increased sludge to the landfill would cost an extra $320,000 this fiscal year. At last week’s meeting, interim public utilities director Pete Connet came up with a new estimate of $220,000.

Connet said the new estimate comes from having more up-to-date information. Smithfield hasn’t yet changed to the new chemical but will in March or April.

The $220,000 will come out of the water and sewer budget. Even with the added cost, it will still be profitable for the town to sell water to the county.

Connet also hopes to knock down the cost of disposing of the sludge. Hauling it to the landill costs about $25,000 to $30,000 a month. But the hauler, Veridian, is seeking a state permit that would allow the company to apply the sludge as fertilizer instead of dumping it in the landfill. Word on the permit should come in February.

Meanwhile, the water plant’s sludge-handling system isn’t working well enough to handle all of the sludge, and Connet is looking into ways of repairing that.

“Right now, we’re just looking at it to try to get it back in operation,” he said.

The county resumed buying Smithfeild water in October. Cleaning the plant, using more alum in the treatment process and the arrival of cooler weather brought the water within the county’s standard, Connet said.

Downtown land

The Town Council added 25 acres to the downtown Smithfield tax district.

In 2003, the late Red Shirley gave 25 acres west of the Neuse River to the Downtown Smithfield Develpment Corp. The hope was to convince the Army Corps of Engineers to allow the town to fill in the lowest-lying acres. Because most of the land is in the Neuse River floodplain, it can’t easily be built upon, said Sarah Edwards, interim director of the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp.

But the Corps said no, and the land sat idle. Last week, the Town Council added the land to the downtown tax district, which will allow Smithfield to pursue grants and other funding to make use of the land.

DSDC hopes to find a partner to develop it, Edwards said, adding that she hopes to have more details in February. Possible uses include agriculture, forestry and recreation.

Other business

Part of the Ham & Yam Festival is changing: The Johnston Health Foundation will take over the Hog Trot, 5k walk and run. Proceeds will help pay for renovations of the Emergency Department at Johnston Medfical Center.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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