Perfect Fit

A Massachusetts city facing a U.S. EPA consent decree builds a new treatment plant surrounded by a scenic beachfront park

In 1990, the City of New Bedford, Mass., turned a U.S. EPA consent decree into an opportunity to merge NPDES permit compliance with the public’s need for open space. The result is a technologically advanced secondary wastewater treatment plant, preservation of an important historic site, and a 50-acre waterfront park that has helped revitalize the region and enhance economic growth.

The city is the largest municipality in the Buzzards Bay Watershed and accounts for 37 percent of its population. Serving 100,000 people, the 30 mgd (design) wastewater treatment plant averages 22 mgd.

By 1988, the plant was out of compliance with the Clean Water Act of 1972. With the consent decree, New Bedford had to decide how to build a new treatment plant on a site occupied by the old facility, various abandoned military structures, and a neglected but historically significant fort.

Raze and replace

Public works authorities partnered with Cambridge engineering firm CDM to begin planning in 1990. Water division superintendent Jim Ricci was the plant’s team liaison, overseeing demolition, construction and other development work.

The limited property, about 60 acres, meant the original plant had to go. Construction started in 1992 on the new plant, which went online in August 1996. The old plant was demolished in September 1997, and its location turned into the Great Lawn at the southern point of the peninsula.

The new plant has five buildings: primary aeration, treatment, dechlorination and pump house, biosolids processing, and administration. The treatment plant was designed to be unobtrusive. The gray building blends with the seaside atmosphere.

Engineered berms and an existing large underground bunker at the northern end of property, installed for gun emplacements during World War II, screens it from the neighborhood. Its chain link fence is visually low-profile. CDM contracted a landscape architect to design and install decorative plantings and vegetate the berms.

One building near the property’s northeast entrance serves as a community center. In summer, it hosts Camp Kennedy, a program for city youth ages 6 to 14. This building also serves as senior center, dance hall, and conference center.

Public green space was in the facility plans from the start. “Our project eliminated a soccer field, so we had to replace it,” recalls Ricci. Because the consent decree stipulated that part of the property would be used for public recreation, a park was born. Its open shoreline allows the public a unique view of the bay.

Thirty employees of Veolia Water operate and maintain the plant. Outside the fence, city crews handle lawn mowing and snow removal.

Military to municipal

Fort Taber, the property’s impressive stone structure and visual focal point, gives the park surrounding the plant its name. It’s located where its precursor, Fort Rodman, stood. The fort is usually closed to the public. Little was done to it other than electrical service brought by public works department personnel from the treatment plant, to allow for surrounding concerts and other events.

The sheriff’s department supervised a corrections work release crew to remove graffiti from the interior. The façade, lit with large floodlights at its base, has a dramatic night appearance. The base’s former PX/movie theater/bowling alley was refurbished to house the Fort Taber Military Museum and a yacht club. The park also has a small café with public restrooms and nearby playground.

A three-mile asphalt-paved walking/bike path winds around the plant, then out along the shoreline on both sides of the peninsula. The entire length is lined with retro Washing-tonian-design street lamps. The park has a three-section, 1,000-foot beach, and two more beaches flankthe peninsula. The pier was refurbished for walking and fishing.

Public events such as concerts, regattas, Boy Scout campouts, and weddings are held on the Great Lawn surrounding the fort. It also is a popular area for strolling, fishing and picnics.

“On a busy weekend, hundreds of thousands of people use this whole area,” says wastewater superintendent Vincent Furtado. “On a nice July day, at least 50 to 100 people are on the beach or shellfishing.”

Ricci concurs: “It’s amazing how many people come to visit the park now. The fort recently logged its 10,000th visitor. My office overlooks the park, and there’s always a steady stream of folks.”


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