BERLIN – Changes will soon be underway at the Glen Riddle Wastewater Treatment Plant in an effort to correct issues that have been costing the county more than $200,000 a year in hauling fees.
Earlier this month, county officials agreed to use $1 million in grant funding to replace failing membranes, which separate contaminants from water, at the plant. This week, they approved an intergovernmental loan to fund the design of long-term improvements—estimated at another $1 million—to accommodate the new membranes.
“This plant just keeps on giving doesn’t it,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said.
Two weeks ago, the Worcester County Commissioners agreed that membrane replacement at the Glen Riddle Wastewater Treatment Plant, a project estimated at $1,003,868, was a project for which they wanted to seek Rural Maryland grant funding through the Tri-County Council. In the wake of that decision, county staff made it clear additional changes would be needed at the plant in order for function to be restored. The facility, built to serve the hundreds of homes in the Glen Riddle community, is currently only operating at 50%. The commissioners were just made aware this year that the county has spent $200,000 two of the last three years hauling wastewater from Glen Riddle to other functioning plants, primarily the Ocean Pines Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The problematic plant came back up this week as staff sought approval for a $100,000 intergovernmental loan. It would allow the design process to begin for the long-term changes needed to accommodate the new membranes that will hopefully eliminate the need to haul wastewater to other plants.
“We’ve had to pump and haul more than we would like to,” Public Works Director Dallas Baker told the commissioners at this week’s meeting. According to Baker, who’s only been with the county since last year, the membranes at Glen Riddle were switched out four years ago. The original membranes, which Baker said looked like spaghetti noodles, were replaced with membranes that look like large sheets of paper. It was thought that the new membranes would help increase capacity at the plant.
It wasn’t long, however, before crews started noticing problems with the new membranes. They’d have one issue addressed only to have another one pop up. The new membranes delaminated when exposed to chlorine, which is used as part of the routine cleaning process in most wastewater treatment plants. The membranes also have to be cleaned far more frequently than the older style membranes used in the county’s other plants. Membranes at the Glen Riddle plant are being cleaned two to three times a month while elsewhere membranes are cleaned two to three times a year.
“At some point you say look we’re chasing our tail here,” Baker said.
Because of the membrane issues, crews have been pumping and hauling wastewater from the Glen Riddle plant to other county facilities, primarily the Ocean Pines Wastewater Treatment Plant. That cost the county $219,553 in 2019, $119,066 in 2020 and $204,581 in 2021.
“There’s a lot of flow coming in that plant,” Baker said.
He explained that the wastewater is diverted to the flow equalization tank, the big stainless-steel tower, and then tanker trucks are brought in to haul it away. During peak season, there are sometimes five to eight tankers a day removing wastewater from the facility.
“There are some times we pull one or two tankers off a day, there are some times we might pull three or four,” he said. “It depends on the volume of flow going through the plant.”
Baker said the membrane manufacturer had acknowledged that the membranes degraded when exposed to chlorine.
Commissioner Chip Bertino asked if there was any way the county could seek compensation from the manufacturer in light of that.
“This manufacturer has cost us the loss of use of our plant, diminished capacity, it’s cost us the pump and haul, it’s cost us man hours, and now it’s costing $100,000 for development and upwards of $1.7 million to reconfigure the plant the way it was before…,” Bertino said. “I’d very much like to see if staff can determine if we do have recourse because that’s a heck of a lot of money.”
Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young said the situations like this often just led to finger pointing.
“That’s usually not productive and only attorneys benefit,” he said. “In the case of them admitting their product is defective when chlorine’s introduced, I think there’s something that we could possibly sink our teeth into there.”
Commissioner Josh Nordstrom said he too wanted the county to pursue compensation.
“I’m really tired of throwing good money after bad into our wastewater system for things that are not our fault, for things that we have to pay for, our taxpayers have to pay for,” he said.
Baker stressed that the Glen Riddle plant had not been designed by the county but rather by the community’s developer.
“These membrane plants that we have in our system, they were given to us by developers,” he said. “They typically come with a low capital construction cost and you’re seeing the high [operating and maintenance] costs that happen later on down the line. When you look at a plant like Ocean Pines, yeah there was a lot of capital construction costs that went into it but the maintenance costs on your traditional plants are significantly lower.”