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Wolfeboro and Tuftonboro discuss effluent disposal issues

DAVE FORD, Wolfeboro Public Works Director, points out monitoring wells on maps of the Rapid Infiltration Basin site to selectmen from both Wolfeboro and Tuftonboro and members of the Tuftonboro Conservation Commission on April 19 (clockwise around table, from bottom): Secretary LeeAnn Keathley, engineer Peter Atherton from Wright-Pierce Engineering, Wolfeboro Town Manager Dave Owen, Wolfeboro selectmen Chuck Storm, Dave Senecal, Sarah Silk, and Chair Linda Murray, Tuftonboro selectmen Chair Carolyn Sundquist, Dan Duffy, Bill Stockman (hidden), Conservation Commission Chair Mike Phelps, technical advisor Stephen Truchon, Conservation Commission member Gary Chehames, and Sr. Water Resources Engineer of Normandeau Associates Mark Hutchins. (Elissa Paquette photo) (click for larger version)
April 22, 2010
WOLFEBORO — Selectmen from both Wolfeboro and Tuftonboro, Wolfeboro's Town Manager, Public Works Director, members of the Tuftonboro Conservation Commission (TCC), and engineers from Wright-Pierce Engineering and Normandeau Associates, and an ecologist serving as technical advisor to the TCC met at the Community Center on Lehner Street on April 19, to discuss issues raised by the TCC about Wolfeboro's Rapid Infiltration Basin (RIB) effluent disposal project.

The Tuftonboro town line borders Wolfeboro's effluent disposal site, and that town has been watchful of the project from the start. Concerns have been expressed in correspondence with Public Works Director Dave Ford, who serves as Wolfeboro's water/sewer utilities director.

The meeting between interested parties in both towns was proposed by Ford in his letter of response to what TCC member Gary Chehames referred to at the meeting as a "capstone letter," listing the TCC's concerns.

At the start of the meeting Ford provided the group with an RIB site plan, surface water sample points, summaries of permits, groundwater monitoring well and surface water quality data, a stream gauging and watershed map and flow measurements. He expressed appreciation to those in attendance for their interest and desire to keep lines of communication open.

Chehames, speaking for the TCC, reiterated concerns expressed in its letter of Jan. 27, in which he termed Ford's report to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Security (DES) that Wolfeboro was "compliant with the Groundwater Discharge Permit and in many cases having less of an environmental impact than predicted by the studies used to permit the site" as "erroneous and misleading."

He said that the fact that an action plan was called for was alarming to Tuftonboro –referred to data the TCC had collected in regard to algae and increased runoff into No Name Brook (which leads into 19 Mile Brook) following the seepage problem at the RIB site last spring. He called for corrective actions, and disagreed with a statement he attributed to Ford's report to DES that said, "environmental impacts are being avoided."

In his written response and again at the April 19 meeting, Ford said that he never made or wrote a statement that environmental impacts are being avoided. Instead, he had written to DES, "…we feel it is evident that even though we have experienced unexpected issues, the operation of the Rapid Infiltration Basin Site has had no significant environmental impact on surrounding groundwater and surface waters."

He agreed that there was an impact – "no one would disagree with that" – but said that the operation is exceeding the permit standards, as demonstrated by the data, which shows that effluent from the water treatment plant before disposal shows levels of 2 mg. of nitrogen per liter, much lower than the state standard of 10 mg. per liter.

Stephan Truchon, technical consultant for the TCC, took issue with the state standard. He said he saw "a lack of constraints in the permit," and commented that any nitrogen increase in the stream is due to the RIB. Chehames said, "We have a difference of opinion on the zero tolerance line."

Furthermore, said Chehames, in talking about the seepage and new algae appearing last year, "We feel [the problems] are economically based. The town went for the lowest cost and didn't do all the construction at the beginning…We appreciate the slow ramping up [of gallons released per day this year] but we see a lack of evaluative engineering and operational criteria for life cycle monitoring. [Wolfeboro] should know when to make other arrangements."

He warned that it is a "hugely complex operation…without the energy and astuteness of Dave Ford, you could be looking at even more severe consequences…What happens in five years?" It's taken an "awful lot of effort just to keep it on its feet."

"Engineers don't live with zero tolerance," said Ford. "It's a tough site…When the state made new rules, no waste water in Winnipesaukee, we were faced with creating a system to serve 20 - 30 restaurants, a hospital, a school," he continued, "and we had to come up with a solution. This $7 million project is one of the largest ever done. Wright-Pierce Engineering says that it is a good long term solution." One of the DES criteria is that the design be cost-effective, which is not necessarily the lowest cost.

Two additional basins, which were part of the original design, are substantially complete, and Ford said the town expects the system to serve the town's needs for 20 to 50 years. The site will be reviewed every five years. "If there is a significant environmental impact, if we're not meeting the permit, I'd have a letter," said Ford.

Linda Murray, Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen Chair, commented that Chehames' point about planning was good, for "we need to look ahead and develop our asset management program." As for determining solutions to waste disposal, she reviewed the solutions the town had considered – snowmaking, connecting via pipeline to Franklin (which would involve miles of pipe through other towns who don't have that infrastructure), reuse options and three different engineering proposals before choosing the present system.

Ford said that part of the solution is continuing to improve the quality of the effluent, and decreasing its flow. The town's commitment to fixing leaks and stopping infiltration from groundwater reduced the 450,000 gallons per day average going into the plant in 2006 to 380,000 gallons per day average this past year. That program continues.

A factor contributing to the seepage in the start up of the operations is that the pond used to store the effluent before disposal was close to overflowing and they wanted to move the water out. Since initial start up, the flow has been moderated.

In determining the life cycle of the RIB site operation, new hookups must be considered, now that the moratorium has been lifted, Ford said. But growth has been slow in Wolfeboro, with two of the major disposers, Huggins Hospital and the Governor Wentworth Regional School District, expected to greatly reduce their effluent flows through the innovative technology that is part of their major new construction and renovation projects.

Truchon suggested that Wolfeboro assume an adaptive management approach. "Don't wait for concentrations to rise before mitigating…I believe that corrective action will be necessary," he said, and requested that there be opportunity for public comment at such time.

Ford expects that DES will be getting back to him by August, after a year of data collection, to review the RIB operation.

Tuftonboro Selectman Dan Duffy asked at the end of the meeting if maybe someone could think of a name for No Name Brook – and suggested Ford Brook as a possibility.

The group disbanded with appreciation all around for the chance to communicate concerns in person and collect information.

For background information, a link to the meeting materials may be accessed on the Wolfeboro town Web site home page (www.wolfeboronh.us), on the right hand side, under "News and Announcements," titled RIB Informational Meeting, 4/19." The TCC's final letter to Ford is on the Conservation Commission's link on the Tuftonboro town Web site. Ford's letter in response is on the Wolfeboro Web site linked to the Water & Sewer Department's Waste Water Treatment Facility, as "RIB Reports and Correspondence."

The April 19 meeting will be televised on Wolfeboro Community TV and is expected to be available to Tuftonboro viewers at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 29, on Channel 3.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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