Private Perspective for Public Good

Raymond Vermette Jr. continues to streamline his facility, relying on the latest technologies, a knowledgeable team, and support from his city officials.
Private Perspective for Public Good

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The 4.7 mgd Dover (N.H.) Wastewater Treatment Facility operates under facility supervisor Ray Vermette — who also serves as chief operator. "It makes me have a busy day," Vermette acknowledges.

With this last promotion, he earned more responsibility, more pay, and a home-based laptop computer connected to the facility SCADA system. By summer, the SCADA connection was to be streamed to his Android phone, enabling him to address emergencies quickly even while on the move.

Adopting the "latest and greatest" technology has helped the city pare its facility staff to seven team members — fewer than half the number employed 20 years ago when Vermette began working at Dover. By his side now are lab supervisor Arnold Powers, who also oversees the industrial pretreatment program, lab technician Tammy Bougie, operators Allan Johnstone and Steve Rogers, electrical technician Raymond McNeil, and maintenance mechanic Earl Friede.

"Every person here is both feet, 100 percent committed to the facility," Vermette says. Vermette, Powers, Friede and Johnstone have worked at the plant both as city employees and as employees of OMI, the contract operations division of CH2M HILL, which ran the facility for seven years. They have used their skill and experience, along with insights from both in-house and contract operations, to the substantial benefit of the city.

Early commitment

Vermette's interest in the clean-water professions goes back to his teen years when he attended a summer program at the Somersworth wastewater treatment plant. "Just seeing how the environment was taken care of — you didn't realize when you ran the water or flushed, where it went and what happened," he says. "It just gave me a tremendous interest."

He started at Dover as a laborer in 1991 and worked on several improvements and upgrades while moving up the ranks. He was retained by OMI as it took control of operations in 1992. When the facility returned to public operation in 1999, the city kept and soon promoted him. "The city was smart — they used the contractors to get policies and procedures in place and get the facility running," recalls Vermette. "It only ran under the municipality for six months before it was contracted out, so OMI did all the initial startup work."

Vermette says his experience is unique because he has been at the same facility for two decades. "My heart was always here," he says. "I've had the opportunity to be at one facility and use the benefits of both public and private operations models. I've been very fortunate."

Contract ops mindset

"Working for the city for more than a year, at
a newly constructed facility before contract operations, gave me just enough time to see how the municipality was structured," Vermette says. "Through the seven-and-a-half years of contract operations, I learned a tremendous amount about streamlining, structure, policy and procedures. That experience gave me the mindset to think and act like an owner and do more
with less."

The plant now runs in a manner very similar to the way it did through contract operations. For example, Vermette and his team continue to perform quarterly walk-throughs, writing up what needs to be addressed. "That's something that was brought to me working for OMI," says Vermette. "Policies and procedures was something OMI was very big into, and that was something I got to bring to the city."

Operating through a municipality, especially in the current economy, has not been easy. The city has faced budget cuts every year, and in fact his hourly workers drive snowplows when the streets need clearing. That thinning of his crew sometimes makes operations challenging.

Working under contract operations has its issues, too: It requires the private company to regularly re-bid for the job. "Every three years, you had that uncertainty," Vermette says. "Who's going to get the project? We worked hard to make sure that OMI kept it." Vermette describes the current publicly run structure as a great fit. He says the best parts of his job are:

• Being employed by a proactive organization that is always working to improve itself

• Having a city council, city manager and a community services director involved in and supportive of the operation and progression of the facility

• Being able to operate and manage the facility as if it were his own

• Having a team of dedicated co-workers who have helped make more than 20 years of operations "an unforgettable experience."

Improving the process

The city's conventional activated sludge facility accepts wastewater from about 100 miles of sewer lines and 21 pumping stations. From a 36-inch force main, the flow passes to two chain-and-flight primary clarifiers (US Filter/Siemens Water Technologies) and then to four aeration basins with fine-bubble diffusers (Sanitaire – a xylem brand). Three 150 hp turbo blowers (HSI) supply the air.

Treatment continues in two secondary clarifiers (Ovivo). After the flow is measured through a Parshall flume, a TrojanUV3000Plus UV system disinfects the effluent, which discharges to the Great Bay Estuary through a
diffuser system (Red Valve Co./Tideflex Technologies). A Rotamix system (Vaughan) mixes blended primary and secondary sludges in the storage tanks before dewatering. Two new Huber Q800 incline screw presses (Huber Technology) dewater biosolids.

Before replacing the facility's belt filter presses and gravity thickeners with screw presses last March, the wastewater facility composted about 5,600 wet tons of biosolids per year at 15 percent solids. The new system is expected to cut production to about 3,000 wet tons per year at 30 percent solids. "That will drastically reduce our solids costs," Vermette says.

The decision to use the screw press technology was not made lightly. The facility staff compared centrifuges, rotary presses and incline screw presses. "We did a pilot test — this wasn't just something we were sold on," says Vermette. "We looked at the 20-year life-cycle cost."

AECOM helped the city with pilot testing three years ago and has continued to support the dewatering upgrade through design and construction. The volume reduction will allow the facility to close its compost operation and put its biosolids out to bid for offsite composting or landfilling at a facility that produces methane gas for energy. According to Vermette, the new system starts on its own, cleans itself, and takes one-quarter of the time to do the job.

The city dedicated $4 million to the biosolids equipment upgrade, but the screw presses cost only $2 million. Vermette plans to ask to use some of the balance to add feed pumps and apply epoxy coating to the facility's 20-year-old sludge storage tanks. He sold the old belt presses on the used equipment market.

Associations and networking

Vermette's work has not gone unnoticed: He won the New England Water Environment Association (NEWEA) Operator of the Year Award in 2011 and the NEWEA Alfred E. Pelonquin Award in 2003. The Dover plant won Wastewater Treatment Facility of the Year in 2003 from the New Hampshire Water Pollution Control Association (NHWPCA).

Fred McNeill, chief engineer in Manchester, N.H., nominated Vermette for Operator of the Year. The nomination letter commended Vermette for making significant operational contributions through participation in NHWPCA/NEWEA, for managing a state-of-the-art facility, and adapting to a changing regulatory environment over the last 10 years.

Vermette has served on the NHWPCA certification and safety committees and as the 40th president. He also has worked on the plant operations committee of NEWEA, is in his third year as a state director with the group, and hopes ultimately to be its president.

"I've always been encouraged by my boss [community service director Doug Steele] and the city manager [Michael Joyal] to get involved," he says. "It gets Dover in front, all this networking." His involvement included providing real-world experience for a Wastewater Management Candidate School, co-hosted by NHWPCA and the state Department of Environmental Services in 2011.

Real-world experience

While he was operations supervisor under OMI, the plant installed a new flat cover and biofiltration system. As facility supervisor for the city, he has overseen the retrofit of the outfall diffuser with duckbill valves and installation of the UV disinfection system, SCADA system, high-speed turbo blowers, and the screw presses.

Looking ahead, Vermette sees new nitrogen limits on the horizon. The U.S. EPA has developed a draft permit of 3 mg/L, and a coalition of neighboring communities has spoken against it at a public hearing.

"The city is committed to doing what's right to protect the Great Bay Estuary," says Vermette, whose home is next to the bay. "We want to make sure the science is good." Plant upgrades to meet the new limit are estimated at $25 million to $30 million. Vermette notes that an 8 mg/L limit would reduce nitrogen feeding the estuary's eel grass by 70 percent, and the facility could meet that limit for about $10 million. "If we don't get it right and spend all that money, it's not good for the ratepayers," he says.

Come what may, Vermette and his team will continue to apply their knowledge and professional experience on behalf of Dover residents.


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