Pitching Right In

Plant team members in Great Falls, Mont., are proud of their contributions to a trail built by volunteers along the Missouri River.
Pitching Right In
Runners on River’s Edge Trail cross the trestle rebuilt by the treatment plant staff.

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Even though less than half a mile of a 50 mile public hiking/biking trail passes in front of the clean-water plant in Great Falls, Mont., that segment is a source of great pride and commitment to the plant operators and staff.

The River’s Edge Trail, constructed on both sides of the Missouri River, is the product of efforts by community volunteer groups, the city, the PPL Montana electric utility, and other agencies and partners, says Wayne Robbins, plant manager. Plant operators and staff have been a notable part of the volunteer effort since the trail’s inception in 1989.

Much of the trail is built on abandoned railroad and road rights-of-way and structures. Even before the segment in front of the plant was built, plant operators helped rebuild a 160-foot span of a trestle bridge that crosses wetlands on Sacagawea Island, downstream of the plant. “They volunteered every weekend all summer long and all during the fall with boom trucks and trailers,” says Doug Wicks, president of Recreational Trails, a nonprofit group of community volunteers that planned and coordinated trail construction.

Better bridge

The original bridge was made of railroad ties, and the spaces between the ties made it unsuitable for hiking or biking. Robbins worked with Mike Jacobson, water/wastewater plant manager, Dana Audet, now assistant plant manager, and many other staff members to remove all the spikes and bolts, dismantle the trestle and re-deck the surface with additional ties. “That was a huge undertaking,” says Robbins. “It was a big job, but part of our community service.”

When it came time to build the trail segment that passes between the 21 mgd (design) activated sludge plant and the river, operators and staff relocated a chain-link security fence closer to the plant to accommodate the 10-foot-wide trail. Since then, they’ve paid for a trailside post-mounted sign that describes the plant’s processes. It was a part of the commemoration of 30 years of the city’s operation and maintenance contract with Veolia Water, covering the treatment plant and 30 wastewater and stormwater lift stations.

Colorful sign

The 4- by 8-foot sign is digitally printed with multicolored graphics and text that show and explain the flow of wastewater through the plant to its outflow at the river. The base is finished with textured stone-like panels. It was installed in 2007 after completion of an $11 million improvement project for the plant’s solids process. “I thought the sign would help the community understand what went on at the plant and what they were paying for,” says Robbins.

Four years later, the sign was vandalized. The replacement graphic panels are made of high-pressure laminate overlaid on the original panel and fastened with security screws. “We paid to have it redone so that it’s a lot more difficult to vandalize today,” Robbins says.

Another trail feature is a water fountain in front of the plant supplied with potable water. “Because it’s right in front of the plant, not everybody will stop for a drink,” Robbins says. “We joke about it a lot, but I would drink from it.”

Attractive landscape

The trail segment in front of the plant looks like a park, with 45 trees, picnic tables and benches. Ivy grows on the chain-link security fence in front of  the plant. The grass in the area is irrigated with water from the plant. “It really is an attractive area,” says Jacobson.

Robbins is proud of his staff’s commitment to the plant’s performance and to the community. They have won many awards, including regional and national U.S. EPA Excellence awards for operations. In addition, the plant has reached 12 consecutive months without a lost-time accident 27 times and is approaching 14 consecutive years without a lost-time accident.

Robbins says, “While we obviously take pride in the plant and effluent quality, we put staff safety above everything — with good results.”   


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