Plant overhaul clears way for city’s growth
In the late 1980s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency halted operation of the antiquated wastewater treatment plant in Hoboken, N.J., ordering the city and nearby Union City and Weehawken to work out an alternative to river discharges.
The Tri-City Sewerage Authority, formed to respond to EPA, agreed to eliminate river discharges, but doing so would require massive reconstruction of the area’s treatment plant to allow for secondary treatment. In addition, a building moratorium resulting from the lack of sewage treatment capacity, created a Catch-22: Potential residents could not move in, the tax base dwindled, and wastewater management continued to deteriorate.
“We had long struggled just to provide the basics,” says Authority Chairman Richard Wolff. “We realized that functions such as wastewater treatment have outstripped municipalities’ technical expertise and resources to operate them.”
In a partnership with CH2M Hill, the authority planned and approved $96 million worth of alterations to transform the existing plant from a 21-mgd primary treatment facility that produced sludge for landfilling to a 24-mgd secondary treatment plant that produces fertilizer and an agricultural topsoil additive, providing the first example of beneficial sludge reuse in New Jersey. Operations Management International, Englewood, Colo., was brought in to handle operations and maintenance of the plant.
Nearly all staff members were retained and retrained with an emphasis on Total Quality Management. They were organized into effective teams and trained to work together to achieve more collectively than individually. Specific technical training addressing topics such as safety, lab operations and specific process implementation followed.
Constant communication has given the authority more control by affording it with accurate operations data. And, since effluent levels must be measured every day, the contracting company’s performance is easily quantified.
Besides enabling the authority to perform its tasks more effectively, outsourcing has also saved money. “We’re saving on consumables and utilities,” says Authority Executive Director Fred Pocci. “Labor savings result from attrition, since greater efficiency allows operation with fewer staff. In addition, an improved work environment and better safety procedures add up to savings.”
Those savings can then be passed on to the ratepayer in the form of reduced water and sewer rates. “Hoboken’s system now runs so efficiently that, even with a high debt structure resulting from the construction, we can keep rates among the lowest in New Jersey,” Wolff says. “Plus, we’ve saved untold headaches. Competent, predictable service has been restored and with it, clean water and smoother city leadership.”
Now that the plant is in compliance, the authority also saves by avoiding fines and penalties.” But the greatest long-term benefit is the area’s ability to grow again.