Attitude of Caring

Mike Bisi operates from concern about his process, his team, and the people in his Connecticut community who have supported their local treatment plant over the years.

Attitude of Caring
Mike Bisi, right, with Greg Doyle, has a straightforward leadership style that his team members appreciate.

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Mike Bisi went to elementary school next to the Glastonbury (Conn.) Water Pollution Control Facility. He confesses he probably was one of the kids who held their noses when they toured the place. Today, he’s in charge of the plant and proud of its outstanding compliance record, forward-looking improvements, and award-winning performance.

After nearly 40 years on the job, he observes,  “I never thought I’d end up having a career at the plant, but it’s been an awesome career. I have no regrets, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

While Bisi is responsible for the town’s solid waste in addition to the water pollution control facility, his passion is wastewater treatment. The Glastonbury plant handles about 2.2 mgd from a population of 6,000, discharging to the Connecticut River. Only about 60 percent of the town is sewered, so the plant takes in a substantial volume of septic tank waste, as well.

Upgraded process

The treatment train was upgraded in 2010 and today includes screening in the pretreatment step, primary clarification in 65-foot circular basins, a four-phase Bardenpho biological treatment and nutrient removal process, secondary clarification, and UV disinfection before discharge. Solids are thickened and hauled as liquid to a nearby treatment plant for further processing.

The facility has won numerous awards over the years, most recently the New England Water Environment Association (NEWEA) Utility Award for Operational and Performance Excellence, presented at the group’s annual conference this last January. 

Awards have come Bisi’s way, as well. NEWEA honored him in 1983 with its William D. Hatfield Award for outstanding performance and professionalism, and with its Clair N. Sawyer award in 2009 for outstanding service to the organization. In addition, he has served in a number of director and committee leadership positions with NEWEA.

Straightforward leader

Bisi acknowledges the honors with the same humility and appreciation he brings to everything about his profession, his colleagues, and his accomplishments. His speech is rapid-fire and confident, yet respectful and friendly.

“I started when I was 19 and just out of high school,” he recalls. “I had an interest in mechanics, worked around garages, and wanted to be an auto mechanic. The new treatment plant was just starting up. They hired me for my mechanical background and I did everything. I worked in the collections system and the laboratory for a while. I was an entry-level laborer, I guess you could say. It was a good opportunity. I took whatever classes I could, and got a lot of good mentoring.

“I was fortunate. As a 20-something, I had the opportunity to shadow the people supervising me. I remember working for an extraordinarily talented fabricator/mechanic who taught me how to weld, how to be creative. When the next grade opened up, I was just there. I wasn’t an expert, but the management was willing to take a chance on me.”

That’s how Bisi has tried to mentor those coming up behind him: “I try to provide opportunities, and to share things. I let them do their job, give them latitude to make their own decisions. Maybe I’m mellowing a bit, but if you let a person do their job, and they’re good at it, it makes everybody’s life a lot easier. They will make mistakes, absolutely, but that’s the way we learn. We teach respect and how everybody’s job affects everybody else.”

Chuck Bohaboy, Glastonbury’s water pollution control supervisor, has been with the town for just over a year, but recognizes Bisi’s devotion to the plant staff and to the town and its citizens, as well: “He really wants what’s best for the plant and the town. When I first met him during the hiring process that’s what I noticed — that he wants what’s best for the town.”

Bohaboy also confirms Bisi’s management style. “He’s upfront and straightforward about what he wants and what he expects. He gives you the freedom and the opportunity to better yourself. And he thanks you, even if it’s just a small thing. That’s appreciated.”

Improving quality

Speaking of thank-yous, Bisi is extremely grateful to the town and its citizens for the support they have given the treatment plant over the years. “If they don’t read about us in the newspaper, that’s fine,” Bisi says. “But our people know that the treatment plant is needed.”

Proudly, he notes the public referendum to pay for the $30 million plant upgrade in 2010 passed by a margin of almost 8 to 1: “That’s a clear sign of support.” The upgrade improved a conventional activated sludge process to the Bardenpho process in order to comply with 2014 nitrogen limits. The existing tanks remain but have been retrofitted with new walls, baffles, and aerobic, anaerobic and anoxic zones. The system includes three trains, and Bisi’s team generally runs two at a time.

“Plus, the plant’s moving equipment was just about worn out and needed replacement,” Bisi says. UV disinfection (Ozonia) replaced the old gaseous chlorination system. A new headworks building includes a grinder (Franklin Miller) and a climber screen and screenings wash press (Vulcan). A SCADA system (Rockwell Automation) now controls all plant processes, and “has had an extraordinary impact on our energy consumption,” Bisi says. Variable-frequency drives (Schneider Electric) are saving additional energy throughout the plant. Odors are controlled by a new wet scrubber and carbon system (Siemens Water Technologies).

While the upgrade improved just about everything in the plant, nitrogen was the main target. The state of Connecticut has a nitrogen credit program, charging treatment plants a fee for excessive nitrogen discharges, and providing credits when those discharges are below the limits. “We had been paying into the system, but starting last year, we have been receiving credits and getting paid back,” Bisi says. Before the plant upgrade, Glastonbury was discharging up to 200 pounds of nitrogen a day. “Now, we’re at 57 pounds a day — actually ahead of our schedule and the 2014 permit requirement of 98 pounds per day. We’re pretty proud of that.”

Bisi is proud as well of the community support that enabled the expenditures. “We had the support of our residents, along with our town manager and Water Pollution Control Authority, even though the project was delayed and we had to find some creative ways to finance the project,” Bisi says.

The community’s sewer sinking fund and capital improvement funds, plus a state grant and low-interest loan, made the upgrade possible. “Even with our debt service, we’ve been able to keep our rates within the lowest quartile of communities serving a population similar to ours,” says Bisi. “We keep close tabs on our operating budget. We’re very cognizant of what our rate payers are paying.”

Getting better still

In other words, after all these years, Bisi still cares about his community and his profession. “I’m not ready to pack it in just yet,” he says. “This is the second time around upgrading some of our pump stations, but I enjoy what I do, and I have a great staff. We’re always looking for ways to make the plant more efficient. It’s always been that way here. You don’t check out at 3 p.m. and go home. If it’s the holiday or the weekend and you’re needed, you take care of business.

“With a small plant like this, it has given me the opportunity to get into computers, management — all these different things. In this economy, this is a secure job with competitive salaries. There are plenty of opportunities. The day is over when we could just take any employee and say, ‘Send him over to the sewer department.’ When I leave I want to be able to say I did everything I could to make our plant number one. After 40 years, it becomes part of you.”


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