If your Examiner’s memory serves him right, Aiken County’s current wastewater treatment plant, the Horse Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, was designed to treat 20 million gallons a day (MGD) of mixed municipal and textile wastes. The textile portion required more treatment capability than the municipal portion, and the design’s operational time frame provided for a 20 year plan, giving the county excess treatment capacity for many years. This underutilization increased dramatically when the textile industry effectively died in our county. The result was a 20 MGD plant that has been highly underutilized for many years, which many would consider to be a good thing. What was not such a good thing was that the income to the plant has not been in accordance with projections.
Still, there was a requirement in Public Law 92-500 (the law that provided the lion’s share of the funding to build our treatment facility) that “renewal and replacement” costs would be figured into the charges for use of the facility. That being the case, the County should now have a considerable amount on hand, somewhere, to pay for a considerable portion of the proposed upgrade. No doubt Mr. Killian, Aiken’s County Administrator, is aware of the details of all fees that have been received through the years to fund the treatment system and he should be able to discuss this better than your Examiner. Could these “renewal and replacement” fees have lost their way? Let’s hope not.
Since (apparently,) according to a recent Dan Brown article in Aiken’s Local Newspaper The AikenStandard, no consideration has previously been given to upgrading the aged electric motors at the treatment plant, this is something that should (and can) be done immediately to allow the County to begin to reap the benefits of the decrease in power costs that will result from having more efficient electrical equipment. Why our engineering staff did not point this out to our County Council years ago is a question that might be worth asking.
Beyond this straightforward change, perhaps our engineers, working in concert with our state regulators, need to determine what may be done economically (hopefully, a bit more economically than a $50 million upgrade) to bring the current plant up to the needed capability to protect the waters of our beloved Savannah River. The current facility, which remains underutilized by almost fifty percent, has been providing a discharge that has not caused the river problems for many years. That being the case, an increase in national discharge standards is the only reason why an upgrade in treatment capability may be under consideration at this time. Increased standards are a matter of public record and should come as a surprise to no one in the industry. Even though that may be the case, a requirement for a drinking water-like discharge (per Mr. Killian) probably is overkill. When Savannah River water comes over the dam at Lake Thurmond, or Clark Hill, depending on which side of the river you are on, it is about as clean as any natural waterway in the two state area, mountain streams excepted. Treating to a higher purity than is found at the discharge of that lake would seem to be a waste of money.
One question that should be answered is: While the basic treatment plant is in place and operating well, and while there is no reason why electrical improvements should not be made quickly, is a $50 million project what is needed and necessary to accomplish the required upgrade of treatment capability? (Construction costs for the existing system were on the order of 30 million 1970 dollars.) Often, when a political body is uncertain over what should be done, a study is suggested. In this case, an alternative to (or verification of) the current engineering firm’s recommendation should possibly be sought. Also, if there is a financial reason why this recommendation has been posed at such a late date—late due to the required time frame to get this phase of the project accomplished—then the reason for this should be investigated, and corrective measures taken by the County Council (or by the public,) if needed.
In any case, the recommendation is highly time-sensitive. It is also a situation that raises another question. Our county’s engineering endeavors of the recent past seem to be consistent in one respect: Recommendations are for high cost construction projects both for the Langley Pond dam replacement ($20 million) and for the Horse Creek Wastewater Upgrade ($50 million.) Whether this is mere coincidence or a matter of considered design is the question. Both our County Council and the county’s public should want to have this question and the related questions in the previous paragraph answered.
One thing’s for certain. If money is to be borrowed, the time to borrow is now. Interest rates are just about as low as they have been in almost anyone’s memory. Just how much is reasonably needed to pay for the necessary work is what must be determined.
If you are an Aiken County resident, and you agree a question or two raised in this article should be given their consideration, give your County Council representative a call. You can find contact information for your representative on the County’s website. And make that call now, before project and funding requirements force action on the issues.
Thank you for your attention to this article, and thank you for your interest in byteclay.com. For more articles by this writer, we invite you to “examine” a summary listing of his articles, many of which remain relevant to the current day.