Mad River Union
McKINLEYVILLE – The McKinleyville Community Services District has commissioned its new wastewater treatment plant, a $16.5 million facility that should keep the town in compliance with environmental regulations for years to come. The plant will also dramatically decrease odors at nearby Hiller Park and adjacent neighborhoods.
The district’s Board of Directors along with various contractors who worked on the project, and other local dignitaries, gathered at the sewer plant Oct. 27 to congratulate each other on a job well done and to cut a ceremonial ribbon.
“This is a seminal moment in the commissioning of the new wastewater treatment plant,” district manager Greg Orsini told about two dozen who gathered for the plant’s unveiling.
Orsini explained the long process the district undertook to design the project, gather public input and obtain low-interest financing before construction could begin.
The project is the largest sewer upgrade in McKinleyville since the town’s collection system was installed 36 years ago. Construction began in 2015, with the plant converted from low-tech pond system to a mechanical treatment plant similar to ones found in big cities.
Rather than having just a series of ponds, the new plant has two small, bubbly ponds with mechanical aerators, which break down the solids, and two giant, cavernous clarifiers, which remove the solids.
The project involved the decommissioning and filling in of acres of old sewer ponds. Tons of muck was scooped out, disposed of and then the ponds were filled with tons of rock and gravel.
One of the problems with the old plant was the “acute toxicity” that was found in the treated wastewater, which is released into the Mad River below the Hammond Bridge during winter months when river flows are high enough. During the summer, or when river flows drop, the wastewater is used to irrigate the district’s Fischer Ranch, located at the corner of School and Fischer roads. The property is leased to a rancher who grows organic hay.
The toxicity was caused by excessive amounts of ammonia, a naturally occurring chemical found in wastewater.
The new plant solves this problem and increasing the quality of the wastewater, bringing the district well within state standards. This allows the district to avoid what could potentially be hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
The plant also reduces the amount of nutrients and heavy metals and pesticides in the wastewater.
“The system is much more intensive when it comes to cleaning the water,” said Orsini, as he led a small group on a tour of the plant after the ribbon cutting ceremony.
“This [the new plant] will greatly reduce odors,” said Director David Couch.
The project is paid for by McKinleyville’s 4,500 sewer customers, who are also paying for a low-interest loan from the state.