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South Bend, Ind., considers wastewater treatment plant upgrade bids

June 17, 2013
wastewater treatment plant
Photo credit: hans engbers/iStockphoto/Thinkstock

The city of South Bend, Ind., is set to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant in the hope that more advanced technology could resolve the community's water quality problems, the South Bend Tribune reported.

The initial estimates of the cost of the upgrade came in at about $7 million but one of the bidders, Grand River Construction, based in Hudsonville, Mich., proposed a plan that would cost the city just $5.5 million. The proposal was for an overhaul of one of the two primary digesters in the facility which play a crucial role for treatment. The digesters are large vats that break down solid waste in water through heat and bacteria and then sanitize the water.

According to Gary Gilot, president of the city's Board of Public Works, which is accepting the bids, the lower-cost proposal was good news in light of the engineers' calculations presented to the city. What is more, two of the other proposals also came under the initial calculations. The first one came from Westfield-based Thieneman Construction, with a plan costing about $6.4 million, while the second project was proposed by Miller Davis Construction, of Kalamazoo, Mich., whose bid was just under $6.7 million.

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South Bend's director of environmental services, Al Greek, explained that the wastewater treatment plant needs major renovation, including the replacement of all the key components of the digester. This means that upgrades should be made to pipes, valves and pumps, as well as to various controls and electrical systems.

In addition, a brand new system that helps produce usable methane in the process of treatment will also be installed. Methane is a natural byproduct of the process, released when solid waste is broken. At present, the city utilizes about half of the amount of methane to power its boilers but the rest is unusable because of the impurities it contains. With a new system the city will be able to increase the proportion of methane it can use, Greek told the South Bend Tribune.

An extra benefit of the upgrade project will be increased capacity of the wastewater treatment facility, which will help the city cut down on the amount of raw sewage overflows into St. Joseph River. South Bend entered a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency in December 2011 that required the city to invest more than $509 million over 20 years to improve its control over sewage overflows from its combined sanitary and stormwater sewers. Greek stated that over the past few years up to 800 million gallons of raw sewage have been spilled into the river on an annual basis, although not all of it included solid waste. The city is currently taking its first steps to deal with the matter but the treatment plant upgrade will certainly help, he concluded.