Yesterday I attended an informational tour of the town’s RIB (Rapid Infiltration Bed). The town was represented by Dave Ford, various employees and contractors involved in the town’s wastewater disposal efforts, an engineer from Wright-Pierce who designed the system, and a Wolfeboro Selectman. Others were some Tuftonboro Selectmen, some Tuftonboro Conservation Commissioners, a representative of the state DES, a reporter from the Grunter and a few civilians like me.
Dave Ford did a good job of recounting the history of the project and explaining the ongoing issues. Anybody who has had dealings with Dave knows that he doesn’t sugar-coat things. The presentation was direct and factual. We walked in the woods and he pointed out the “Unexpected Issues” that have developed, and then presented an assessment of the current effluent disposal situation and options. To me he seems to be saying that while not ideal, the situation is manageable.
The RIB consists of five sunken beds with sandy bottoms on top of a hill that are alternately flooded with treated effluent. The effluent subsequently percolates down through the sand, giving up most of its phosphorus, then follows saturated or granite layers to daylight someplace. The unexpected issues involve about half of the effluent finding it’s way out of the hillside prematurely causing sinkholes, erosion and sand migration. So far, these problems have been managed with an improvised system of pipes and sand traps, but the situation begs a more comprehensive solution.
In spite of the difficulties, monitoring shows that the RIBs are doing the job of removing phosphorus, and due to innovative improvements made at the Wastewater Treatment Plant, the nitrogen levels of the flow as it enters the site are well below the anticipated and permitted levels.
A significant consequence of the blowout problem is reduced capacity, particularly during wet periods when rainfall increases the natural flow down the hill. This has required re-commissioning of some of the old spray-fields and a proposal to set up a new one. We need to renew our permits from the state to operate both the RIBs and the spray fields. I think that will be forthcoming.
Tuftonboro representatives seem to be concerned about the recent developments, as well they should be. The improvised network of pipes and sandbags have the look of a post disaster landscape. Also, trees in the immediate area of the surface water are dying and being replaced with other vegetation that is better suited to the changing conditions. There is no denying that this facility is having a profound impact on the surrounding area, but it should also be noted that much of it was anticipated and while different, its not necessarily bad. But while they may see these unexpected issues as a complication, there is another side that should be considered: The annual flow through the facility and ultimately to waterways like Nineteenmile Brook are and will probably continue to be half what was originally anticipated, and the nitrogen content of the effluent is half what was allowed in the originally approved design. So the way I see it, our nitrogen disposal there is 75% less than originally expected.
There was no attempt to place blame or wallow in hindsight. Dave Ford knows that his problem is getting rid of an annual 150,000,000 gallons of our showers and flushes, and that is not easy in the Granite State when you are many miles from a moving river. He is just going straight ahead with managing the problem week to week with the resources that he has. That includes programs to further reduce the load (I&I), and disposal at the RIB and spray-fields as conditions allow.
Something to think about next time you pull the chain. I don’t have any better ideas.
Having seen the photographs of the “remediation”, I think you are probably kind in your assessment. But what concerns me more is that one has to rummage through the Auditor’s Report to find out the State is now not willing to pay their share of the RIB project cost due to, I suppose, the failure of the system to conform to specifications, both in total capacity and the issues of premature surfacing of the effluent stream. That is, unless somehow I missed an official announcement of the State’s actions by the BOS. And word on the street is that Town Manager Owen has been shopping NH law firms who might be willing to enter into litigation with Wright-Pierce and we have sad experience as to how the Town’s lawsuits generally end up costing the taxpayers a lot.
I heard this morning that last night’s (12/14) BOS meeting ended with TM Owen showing his pique at an email circulating around town regarding the sewer goings on. Mr Owen labeled it as “inaccurate”. First I find it fascinating that our Town Manager responds publicly to someone’s email criticizing town government. Secondly Mr. Owen fails to understand the underlying issue the email highlights. A law of nature is that a vacuum is always abhored, and all attempts will be made to fill it. So if the BOS/TM choose not to make efforts to keep the citizens informed, then blogs, such as this one, will be created to disseminate information and opinion and emails, albiet it facts or gossip, will proliferate. Such is our First Amendment freedom to speak our minds about those we hire or elect to run the Town. A public official, such as Mr. Owen, would be in better stead if he left his anger lie and endeavored to be first on the street with the facts. He should rely more on press releases, the good, the bad and the ugly, given to the GSN to be published, rather than expect the Channel 25 video clips to carry the message.
Concord Monitor today has an article on State’s failure to reimburse towns and cities for wastewater projects. These projects are sold to local taxpayers as partially funded by the State. However the State is in arrears of $30,000,000 or so for projects already built and the legislature has no sense of urgency apparently to authorize payment. In fact given how the budget is being handled in Concord and the future dim prospects, I expect we may never see the State portion of the RIB project.