Goal Oriented

From a young age, Shane McCannon set his sights on a clean-water career. He now leads a team at a high-performing regional treatment facility.
Goal Oriented

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Shane McCannon knows an opportunity when he sees it. Driving by the local wastewater treatment plant as a teenager, he often thought the clean-water profession might make a good career.

Now, 12 years later, he’s in charge of the 20 mgd Mattabassett District Water Pollution Control Plant in Cromwell, Conn., and has just been named Young Professional of the Year by the New England Water Environment Association (NEWEA).

At age 32, he says he still has a lot more to absorb and learn. But he’s firm in his commitment: “Wastewater is the thing for me.”

His accomplishments at Mattabassett include substantially reducing energy consumption, achieving significant nitrogen removal, substituting effluent for potable water for in-plant operations, and generally leading a highly cohesive team of operators.

A clear goal

After high school, with his career goals clearly in mind, McCannon enrolled in Springfield (Mass.) Technical Community College. He earned an associate degree in environmental technology and took a practicum at the East Windsor (Conn.) Water Pollution Control Facility. There he met Art Enderle, a professional he now considers his mentor.

“Art allowed me to participate in a practicum at his facility as part of my studies,” McCannon says. “He has a strong sense of service to the public and the environment. I got solid training with his excellent staff in the lab, the collections system, and the plant.”

In just six months, Enderle left a lasting impression. “He had a great attitude,” McCannon says. “I did what I was asked with a smile on my face, and he noticed. He is a friend to this day.” Inspired and eager to work, McCannon joined the maintenance staff at the Manchester (Conn.) Wastewater Treatment Plant. “I found it extremely interesting — collections, the laboratory, treatment,” he says.

As usual, he was looking for more responsibility. The chance came in 2000, when the Mattabassett District hired him as a second-shift operator. He continued his education, getting his Class III operator certification, and moved up to third-shift supervisor. He passed his Class IV operator’s certification on the first try, and when he was offered the operations manager position in 2008, he took it.

“I knew it would be difficult, but I accepted the challenge,” he says. “It took hard work and luck, but it was a great opportunity and the right place. I had a goal 10 years ago. I knew what I wanted to do.”

Regional facility

McCannon’s plant is a major treatment center on the Connecticut River, handling flow from Berlin, New Britain, Cromwell, and portions of Rocky Hill, Millington and Farmington — about 120,000 population. The plant dates to 1968, when it was a physical-chemical operation.

The treatment train today uses an activated sludge process to achieve biological treatment, including significant nitrogen removal. Effluent nitrogen averages around 6.5 mg/l, and sometimes is as low at 5.0 mg/l. Chlorine disinfects the treated effluent during the warm months. The plant discharges to the Connecticut River through submerged diffusers.

Belt filter presses dewater mixed waste activated and primary biosolids, which are burned in a 1.5-dry-ton-per-hour Dorr Oliver fluid bed furnace.

A Wonderware (Invensys Operations Management) SCADA system monitors and controls plant processes, and the plant is operated 24/7 by a staff of 12, working three shifts. A separate nine-person staff provides maintenance support, and the district operates an on-site laboratory with a staff of two. The maintenance areas are professionally staffed to maintain the high level of expertise today’s treatment facilities require.

Solid results

Under McCannon’s leadership, the Mattabassett team won the NEWEA Plant of the Year award in 2009, to no surprise for the district’s executive director Brian Armet. “In his short time in charge, Shane has molded maintenance and operations into one cohesive workforce,” Armet says. “And they’ve achieved some solid results. They make my job easy.”

They’ve also saved the district money by improving operations and increasing efficiency, especially in energy consumption. McCannon and his staff sit down once a month as an “energy committee” and review processes and methods, looking for ways to save energy.

“We listen to all ideas, no matter how big or small,” McCannon says. “We’re very open-minded.” It’s not so much that the plant is wasting energy — it’s that his crew knows there are always ways to reduce costs for fuel and power. For example, they’ve installed automatic sensors on lights around the plant. Using Hach dissolved oxygen meters, they’ve made the operation of the Hoffman (Gardner Denver) aeration blowers more efficient. And they’ve changed the blower operation so that horsepower is more closely matched to the needs.

“In the summer, we run the large blowers in the sludge storage facility, but in the winter, when the need is less, we run the smaller blowers,” says McCannon.

Big reductions

Another improvement cut building heating requirements by more than 50 percent. The facility’s main heating system would be turned on in September just to keep the laboratory area warm. But in fall 2009 the plant purchased a smaller propane boiler for the lab-maintenance building, which keeps the lab warm in spring and fall. The full system, fired by a Cleaver-Brooks boiler, doesn’t need to be turned on until later in the season.

By ducting waste heat from the fluid bed incinerator into the plant, the Mattabassett crew has cut heating costs even more. “Under Shane’s leadership, we’ve reduced our electric bill from about $1.75 million a year to $1.62 million last year,” says executive director Armet. “Plus, the plant is now using effluent water instead of potable water for many of our process water needs. That has reduced our potable water usage by one-quarter to one-third.”

McCannon and his staff have made other improvements. Due to attentive maintenance, Mattabassett gets 10 times the belt life from its biosolids belt presses than the manufacturer says is normal. And plant nitrogen removal rates have been achieved through careful adjustments to the activated sludge system. Two of the basins have fine-bubble diffusers, and the other two have coarse bubblers. The plant runs all four in parallel, cycling air on and off to create oxic and anoxic zones.

“We’re dancing with cement shoes,” says Armet, suggesting that the plant wasn’t really designed for the performance it’s getting through the hard work and innovation of its staff.

Always a team

McCannon, married with three boys, spends a lot of his spare time volunteering to help coach youth baseball and other sports for his youngsters and their teammates — helping them learn the games and improve their skills.

It’s the same approach he takes at the treatment plant, where he’s proud of a crew that gets along extremely well and achieves top performance. The district hires most of its operators as new to the field. “We put the time and money into building our employees from the ground up,” McCannon says. “These employees are our future. An employee with five years or more in the plant is priceless, and an employee that we got to this point from the ground up is even better. It’s a solid bunch of excellent operators.”

McCannon preaches certification and professional development. He sees his own experience as an example of how much operators can achieve if they apply themselves. “We’ve reached out to the maintenance staff and others in an attempt to get them certified,” he says. “I’ve become a member of the Connecticut Certification Advisory Committee so that I can contribute to the development of operators.”

Challenges ahead

Despite the learning experiences and plant upgrades, McCannon feels he and his team haven’t peaked yet. Ahead of them lies a major retooling of the plant for more flow and even better performance.

“We’re negotiating with the community of Middleton to take all of their flow,” says Armet. “And we will have to get our effluent nitrogen levels down to 3.5 mg/l as part of new state and regional requirements to protect Long Island Sound.”

Under a design that is nearly complete, with construction set to start next fall, the plant will add two more aeration tanks and retrofit the four existing aeration tanks to meet the new nitrification requirements. It will also add two new final clarifiers, build a new effluent pumping station, and install a new fluid-bed furnace, equipped with state-of-the-art emission controls. New centrifuges and other improvements are also in the plan.

The expansion and improvements will require the best from McCannon and his team, but you get the feeling they’ll deliver because of the way they respect each other and work together.

“I have the privilege to manage many of my shift supervisors who trained me as I was growing at the district,” McCannon says. “Several veteran supervisors showed me the right and wrong ways to do things, look at processes, and correctly approach maintenance activities. I will always be grateful for the learning experiences I had under them.

“Our maintenance manager, Grant Bergeron, is retiring after 36 years at the plant. Grant was probably the best instrumentation technician in the country, and he accepted the maintenance manager position a few years before retirement. He has a good solution every time, and has been a colleague and mentor beyond description.

“As I said before, I’ve always been the product of a great environment.”


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