UNION BRIDGE -- The town's new sewer plant operator reports major operations problems at both ends of the plant.
Since May 15, Fred Haifley says he has logged many 12-hour "labor-intensive" days, dealing with aging and poorly maintained machinery. Haifley splits his day between here and neighboring New Windsor, where he oversees the lagoon system.
"Things are beautiful in New Windsor but there's a storm cloud hanging over Union Bridge," he said. "Nearly every day, I deal with a different crisis."
When sewage enters the plant, the main pump, which is "not clearanced correctly," often leaks or clogs easily with rags. That results in an overworked back-up pump, he said. Controller equipment, which disinfects the sludge at the other end of the plant, is also not "up to speed."
"We have to get a new pump and better chlorine and sulfur dioxide controllers as soon as possible," he said. "The pumps have to work or we could have the ultimate consequence: a spill into the street and a big-time fine from the state."
Mayor Perry L. Jones Jr. said the town budget, adopted at Monday's meeting, includes $20,000 for plant upgrades. That amount will just cover Haifley's top priorities.
Representatives from the Maryland Center for Environmental Training also attended Monday's session, delivering more expensive news to the Town Council.
"The plant is in terrible condition," said Jake Bair, director of the private agency, which works with the state Department of the Environment and provides certification training for plant operators. "Maintenance projects have been deferred for too long and need immediate attention."
The plant, which processes about 100,000 gallons a day, also has inadequate sludge management. Inability to process the treated sewage causes continuous operational problems.
"Inadequate design for sludge management is a serious setback for the plant," said Doug Abbott, a training officer with the center. "The town must initiate a long-term plan."
Jones said the town has about five acres at Quaker Hill and Priestland roads, where it is seeking a permit to spread dried sludge. Bair said that operation requires a minimum of 25 acres. The mayor said the town is considering offering the treated sludge to farms for use as fertilizer.
"Sludge is good for the land and farmers love it," said Haifley.
Bair called the agricultural option the most economical if the town has a holding capacity when sludge can't be spread.
"You have a pretty good grade of sludge here," said Bair. "I wouldn't call it vintage champagne, but it is benign."
As a short-term solution, the town hauls its treated sludge to Westminster at a cost of nine cents per gallon -- the same rate paid for untreated sludge.
Bair urged the council to take immediate action.
"You have a chance to save the facility and make it better," said Bair. "You have a good, experienced operator, but he needs help."