BPW considering operator change for wastewater treatment plant

June 5, 2020

Just a few months after a major malfunction at the Lewes wastewater treatment plant resulted in nearly 4 million gallons of partially treated wastewater entering the adjacent marshland, the Lewes Board of Public Works is considering a change of operators. 

Current operator White Marsh Environmental Systems is under contract until 2022, but the BPW can terminate the contract under certain circumstances. 

BPW President D. Preston Lee said he’s been talking with White Marsh CEO Bruce O’Connor regarding the possible operator change at the plant. 

“He’s been very cooperative and very professional,” Lee said.

They’ve discussed a schedule for a change and tasks that need to be done before it would occur. Lee was vague about what might occur and when. 

“He would like to do it as peacefully as possible,” Lee said

O’Connor sent the BPW a request for a nondisclosure agreement, but Lee declined to go into more details. 

White Marsh was selected to take over as operator of the plant in 2017. The initial year of the contract was $252,000 and is set to be $284,000 when the contract ends in 2022. However, White Marsh’s contract includes undisclosed monthly costs for capital improvements based on time and materials. Former operator Severn Trent, now known as Inframark, operated the plant from 2007-17, and the contract exceeded $400,000 the final year. 

While the name of the operator BPW is considering to take over for White Marsh was not divulged during the BPW’s May 27 meeting, the General Manager’s Report for May indicates GM Darrin Gordon, Lee and BPW board member Tom Panetta met with Inframark representatives to advance discussions of the wastewater treatment plant operation. 

A malfunction Dec. 18 forced White Marsh, a wholly owned subsidiary of Tidewater Utilities Inc., to bypass the wastewater treatment process.

Initially believed to be minor, the issue turned out to be much more major, clogging all of the facility’s filters, and the facility was taken offline for about 10 days until replacement filters could be delivered from Canada. 

The facility was back online Dec. 28, and crews continued to clean the old filters to be placed back into the system for redundancy. But another malfunction Jan. 1 forced White Marsh to bypass the system again. While the second malfunction only lasted two hours, DNREC issued a press release Jan. 2 to alert the public.

Following the release of BPW’s root cause analysis in March, White Marsh has taken steps at the plant and is now providing much more information in its monthly reports to BPW. During a visit to the plant May 19, a representative of engineering firm George, Miles and Buhr learned that three of the facility’s four filters had been replaced, with the fourth filter replacement underway.

Turbidity meters on all four filters had been replaced; all now have better alarming features than their predecessors. White Marsh’s monthly report also contained much more detail on the operation, growing from 17 pages in February and March to 54 pages in April. 

Panetta still would like more information from White Marsh tracking nitrogen, phosphorus and biological oxygen demand levels.

Cost and who will pay for the 24-7 response to the situation earlier this year has not yet been worked out, Lee said. 

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