Tall, Tall Trees

Plantings of white pines and white spruces will help screen the Traverse City treatment plant from visitors to a hiking and biking trail beside the property.
Tall, Tall Trees
Tree plantings create a pleasant environment around the Traverse City Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant. Plant staff members have volunteered to water the trees until they are well on their way to maturity.

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The Traverse City Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant is an 8.5 mgd (average) membrane bioreactor (MBR) facility that rests on the north shore of Boardman Lake, a major recreation destination in this northwest Michigan city of nearly 15,000.

Between the lake and the treatment plant is a biking and hiking trail that attracts locals and tourists alike. The east side of the plant abuts a popular city park with a public boat launch that serves the community sailing club. A boathouse and boat slips are directly in front of the plant. Homes and businesses also surround the plant, making it a neighborhood landmark.

Tree buffer

"We are very much surrounded by the community," says Scott Blair, project manager for CH2M HILL, contract operator of the plant. "I can walk to city hall from here." Public relations and being a good community partner are important parts of facility operations, says Blair. So when a citizen approached the city planner with an idea to plant trees near the plant to buffer the hiking and biking trail, the plant team was eager to help out.

They planted more than 50 white pines and white spruces, each at least 3 feet tall. Most are along a fence between the plant and the trail, but some are on the north side, which faces a city-owned lot slated for future development. Strategically planted near the trees are 20 deciduous Virginia creeper vines that eventually will climb the chain-link fence and further obscure the plant from trail users' view.

The plant paid the $1,500 for the trees and vines out of a Community Involvement Budget. "Although it's a small part of our overall budget, when we come across something that is important and means something to the client, we are happy to apply it that way," Blair says.

Kind attention

A small news article about the project in the hometown newspaper produced a few citizen volunteers who joined the mayor, the city planner, the fire chief, treatment plant staff and members of the non-profit Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) Trails organization in a Friday afternoon planting. TART Trails developed and maintains the trail near the plant. "We made a big deal out of it and everyone had fun," says Blair.

Since then, members of the plant staff have volunteered to water the trees until they are firmly on their way to maturity. Although it will be several years before the trees are large enough to provide a significant visual barrier, an eventual secondary benefit will be the absorption and diffusion of odors that might come from the facility.

Planting trees is not the plant's only community initiative. Several years ago, the team helped create a 4- by 6-foot sign near the boat launch at the park next to the plant. The project was sponsored by the Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Center, a non-profit organization, and plant operators helped by designing a diagram on the sign that depicts plant operations.

Blair is proud of his staff's efforts to be good neighbors, but especially of the cleaner effluent and increased capacity benefits that came from converting the plant to MBR in 2004. "For a while, we were the largest operating MBR in North America," he says.

Further evidence of concern for neighbors is an extensive foul-air containment and treatment system with two geodesic domes that cover former clarifiers next to the park.


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