Berlin Takes Initial Step In Sewer Expansion Process

BERLIN – After years of false starts and several changes in plan, Berlin’s wastewater expansion and improvements are under way at last, with the Berlin town council voting last week to begin the process of engaging a design engineer.

The first step in meeting the County Commissioners’ five-year time limit for the project is a request for qualifications from potential design engineers. The town council voted to have staff send that request out this winter.

To qualify for some federal and state funding sources, Berlin must use a design engineer that meets certain standards, such as experience in wastewater treatment plant design and a history of using minority contractors, according to Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary.

“If we do grant funding, that’s part of the procurement criteria,” Bambary said.

Once town staff has identified the pool of potential designers, a request for proposals to design the plant expansion and improvements will be issued.

“A design must be prepared. Then you submit the design to the state for permits to construct,” said wastewater consultant Mark Prouty of URS Corporation.           

Berlin is also under constraint by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), which has issued a consent order mandating a plant upgrade and nutrient removal improvements, and requiring a formal schedule of how that will be accomplished. MDE must also approve the county’s plan for Berlin’s sewer system.

“They want to decrease the amount of nitrogen that percolates through the soil,” Prouty said. “Now they’re talking about having the nitrogen levels at zero.”

With an approved design in hand, the construction work would then be sent out for bid.

“Construction would start in July 2009. We think we could get MDE permits in line to go to bidding for construction and have the plant started by then and in operation by 2010,” Prouty said.

Berlin will not formally seek funding for the project until the bids are in, Russell Tatman of URS said, which will not be for another 12 to 18 months, he felt.

The town council will also consider legislation requiring developers to provide spray capacity for their projects as well as additional spray irrigation acreage for the town. How the new capacity will be distributed is a critical element of the work going forward.

Bambary said that the town would work on a capacity management plan on how to allocate sewer service. The planning number used, 50 EDU hook-ups a year, could change.

“The proposed plant we are describing is a single plant rated for 750,000 gallons per day (gpd),” Prouty said. “It would be set up such that it could be expanded in phases.”

The work will add 150,000 gpd, or 600 EDUs. Berlin has about 400 unused EDUs, because the present system cannot handle further flows.

The commissioners also directed the town to terminate the winter months’ stream discharge in favor of year-round spray irrigation.

“In three to five years, we must have this water out of the stream,” Prouty said.

While Berlin continues to look for more spray irrigation land, the task is proving difficult. The County Commissioners reduced the timeline for total spray irrigation last month from 10 years to five, admonishing the town not to wait because land would become hard to find, and costly.

“We’re finding that right now land is expensive, land is scarce,” Prouty said of the town’s efforts to secure further spray sites.

Leasing land is a possibility. Buying land and then leasing it to a farmer is more problematic and would probably not save money.

“A farmer’s want for water is much less than we’d like to put on land,” Prouty said.

The right kind of soil can take 85 inches of treated wastewater a year, but farmers usually only want 20 to 25 inches of water, in addition to rainfall.

Prouty said that he has considered using the town parks or even land at the high school to spray some effluent, but no decisions have been made.

Switching effluent from seasonal stream discharge to land discharge has other considerations.

“You’ll need new lagoons for the storage of the water if you’re going to get out of the stream, for inclement weather or crop management,” said Prouty.

The state may be reluctant to sign off on something many residents have requested – a purple pipe, a dedicated line for treated wastewater to be used on lawns and gardens that also keeps nutrients out of local waters and reduces spray irrigation needs.

“That is not allowed in the state of Maryland at this point in time,” Prouty said. “The state is looking into it very closely.”

Golf courses in Maryland, like those at Glen Riddle, often use treated effluent for irrigation, but the state has not approved other uses for the cleaned up wastewater.

“I think it’s the right idea,” he said.

According to Prouty, the town is the first one in the state to attempt to add a purple pipe.