Kent Levy Court creates new sewer plant job; OKs emergency repair spending

DOVER — Kent County Levy Court commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a new wastewater operations engineer position and authorized the repair and updating of the south aeration basin at the wastewater treatment plant near Frederica.

Acting director of public works, Diana Golt, said the new position would pay a salary starting at $73,908.

A bid for the basin liner and repair was approved $397,828 and funded through “prior year capital emergency repair funds.”

Basin liner

In early July, the wastewater treatment plant started discharging “undertreated” wastewater due to operational issues. In an ordinary day, the plant expels about 10 million gallons of fully treated wastewater subject to several different standards concerning nutrient, bacteria and suspended solid limits.

One bacteria they screen for, enterococcus, was significantly elevated. The plant’s permit limit for enterococcus colonies is 33 per 100 mL, but that number rocketed up to hundreds at some times to thousands per mL for several weeks. At the time, DNREC had to put a shellfish harvest restriction in place and recommended not swimming in nearby streams.

The issue began with a mechanical malfunction in one of the county’s wastewater plant’s 10 million gallon aeration basins — large holding or treatment ponds which promote the biological oxidation of wastewater.

The plant has two of these basins, but one was in the process of being repaired when the other basin’s lining developed a hole. According to the public works department, it’s not uncommon for liners to fail, but to have it happen while the other basin was being repaired — thus unable to pick up the slack — caused the issue to snowball.

Repair work was finished on the basin and it was brought back on line and treatment levels returned to the plant’s standard shortly thereafter. The shellfish harvest restrictions were lifted since then as well. However, the liner replacement process in the other basin is a process that’s taken months. The approval of spending on the new liner will move that project to the next stage.

“We’ve completed the stone cleanup and have more stone being brought in for the basin,” said Ms. Golt. “Then we need to place a perforated pipe and the venting system and put in the liner.”

New position

The new wastewater operations engineer position was created to accommodate an increasing workload at the plant said county personnel director Allan Kujala.

“The infrastructure work at the treatment has reached a critical stage and it’s the opinion of the acting director and the staff that it’s necessary, needed and important to add additional technical staff member,” he said.

Former public works director, Andrew Jakubowitch, resigned several months ago, according to Levy Court president P. Brooks Banta. Ms. Golt stepped up into the acting director position at that time.

Although the new position will pay at least $73,908, Mr. Kujala said that the county won’t need to budget for that until FY2019 because of existing position vacancies.

Ms. Golt said the county is in search of an applicant with technical expertise in wastewater processing.

“This is not just a short term position, we’re looking at ongoing work in pipeline condition assessment, maintenance procedures and asset management work that needs to be done,” she said. “We have aging infrastructure and we need make sure that we’re addressing that in our pipelines and at the facility.”

Both proposals received unanimous support with the exception of commissioners Glen Howell and Eric Buckson who were both absent.

“The wastewater treatment facility is the lifeline of Kent County and it needs to be maintained at 101 percent condition at all times, so these kinds of requests are important to move through quickly,” said Mr. Banta.

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