June 17, 2002
County points to Vancouver plant as model for Brightwater project
by Jeanette Knutson
Surely each of the 17 visitors to the Vancouver, Wash., wastewater treatment facility stole a surreptitious sniff or two as they alighted the bus that brought them from Seattle.
Heck, they may have taken an unabashed snort of "facility" air on that warm, sunny Saturday afternoon.
I know I did.
Among the guests of the Marine Park Water Reclamation Facility were State Rep. Ruth Kagi (Dist. 32), residents of the Route 9 area, employees of Snohomish County, and a representative of an Edmonds economic development group.
The delegation was on a mission to evaluate the sewage plant for themselves. Was it a community asset or eyesore? Did it smell? Was it noisy? Did it have qualities that could transfer to the Brightwater treatment plant, slated to be built in south Snohomish County within the decade?
The group wasn't 20 feet from the bus when Siting and Mitigation Manager for the Brightwater project Michael Popiwny said, "Well, it sure smells bad."
People chuckled at the irony, for the air was warm and still and sweet.
Nearby, baby boomers power-walked, teens rollerbladed, helmeted families rode their bikes. Trail-users carried water bottles in their hands, binoculars over their shoulders.
From an overlook, our group viewed a water inlet where ducks swam. Birds chirped. Some spied osprey. A sailboat, a motorboat cruised the Colombia River in the distance.
Heads turned to survey the grounds. The lawns were green and spacious; the plantings, attractive.
The processing of wastewater takes place inside five steep-roofed red brick buildings whose architecture is ... well, stately.
The style was specifically chosen to resemble the architecture of historic Vancouver. The aesthetic was very pleasing.
Debra Ross, public involvement officer for the Brightwater project, likened the grounds to a retreat center or college campus.
Judith Stoloff of Snohomish County's Department of Planning and Development Services said, "What's not to like?"
The park-like "campus" was peaceful, tidy, beautifully landscaped. Indeed, there was much to like.
Tom Boyer, assistant city engineer for the City of Vancouver, explained how before the plant was built, the community made its "wants" clear. They wanted public waterfront access, wetlands preserved, parks and trails. The community also had a list of "don't wants": odor, noise, ugliness, the stigma of having a treatment plant in the neighborhood.
Constance Rogers of Maltby asked, "How much chlorine goes into the Columbia?"
Boyer responded, "Zero."
The plant uses ultraviolet light to disinfect the water, to kill viruses and harmful pathogens.
Some were surprised to learn that the Vancouver plant did not treat biosolids. Apparently they are shipped to a plant on the town's west side for processing. And though the Marine Park facility has not had a single odor complaint since it opened in 1996, the westside plant that treats the solids has had odor complaints.
The Brightwater plant will treat liquid and solid waste.
Someone in the group said zero-odor was a hard (standard) to meet. These are, after all, biological plants. Engineers plan for odor incidents. They have contingency plans.
Someone else said odor incidents don't linger. They are discreet events. Air disperses them. But, this person said, a few "burps" do occur. They are, however, of finite duration.
Michael Popiwny said, "Brightwater is committed to the best odor control in the country."
He also said that the West Point facility in Seattle, which treats both liquid and solid waste and has been online since 1995, has three to four odor complaints a year.
Jim Goetz of CH2M Hill and a lead engineer for the Brightwater project explained at last week's open house/scoping meeting at Hollywood Schoolhouse in Woodinville that technology has improved since the West Point plant was built.
In fact, a new biosolids digester was constructed since the plant opened. This one has a fixed-cover tank with no open space around it. Goetz says this new tank prevents odors from escaping.
But even the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) in its September 2000 fact sheet entitiled "Biosolids and Residuals Management Fact Sheet, Odor Control in Biosolids Mangement" admits that "nuisance odors are a common occurrence at wastewater treatment plants (and) biosolids processing facilities ... where proper management and control are not implemented.
"Failure to acknowledge the potential for odors and to work to prevent odor emissions can result in complaints, shutdowns, expensive retrofits, and non-acceptance of the finished product. ... Proper facility design, operation, management, control and careful oversight are necessary to minimize odors."
Mark Sakura, a member of the Route 9 Community Task Force who visited the Vancouver treatment plant said he was impressed with the Vancouver facility and happy for the city that it worked out so well for them. He had, however, serious concerns for the Route 9 site whose air shed holds odors. He also was worried about contamination from the Brightwater plant to the Cross Valley Aquifer, contamination that could occur during construction, during a spill, during an earthquake.
Gunar Sreibers, conveyance manager for the Brightwater project and fellow visitor to the Vancouver plant, said planners were aware of the aquifer and felt they could "work around it."
Sakura also said, "Energy is not reliable out there (at the Route 9 site). They'd need a good backup system."
Sakura feared unexpected power outages could compromise the plant and its system's functions.
At the Marine Park facility, noise was not a problem. Pumps and other equipment were housed in buildings, oftentimes below ground. Neither sound nor odors seeped into the environment.
The Water Resources Education Center was a gracious, beautifully designed building that contained a gift shop, an art gallery, interactive displays, and a water sciences laboratory and classroom.
The building also had a large community room with kitchen facilities available for meetings, reunions, seminars, banquets and even wedding receptions.