Professional Growth And Security

Southern King County district reaps the benefits of Mark Fogle’s willingness to take on new tasks, his focused experience and mechanical aptitude.
Professional Growth And Security
Mark Fogle (foreground) and Klinton Caillier check clearances on a rotary lobe pump (Boerger).

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Everyone can agree that Mark Fogle is engaged in whatever he sets his mind to. Fogle, senior wastewater treatment operator at Lakehaven Utility District (LUD) in Federal Way, Wash., took that position in July 2013, during just his third year with the district.

He’s in the profession thanks to a career change: He previously worked in aircraft manufacturing. “I used to work for Boeing,” he says. “They would ramp up and then lay people off.” When he got a pink slip during a downturn in 1999, he decided something needed to change.

Today, as a 13-year veteran of the clean-water profession, Fogle has found his sweet spot. He enjoys a job that promises long-term security, satisfying work and more work-life balance — the LUD’s Lakota treatment plant is just 15 minutes from his home in Kent.

A test for readiness

Fogle is a lifelong resident of Federal Way, eight miles northeast of Tacoma and less than five miles from Dumas Bay, a 40-acre waterbody that is part of Puget Sound. Residents enjoy boating, fishing and crabbing in the bay, where LUD’s Lakota and Redondo wastewater treatment plants discharge effluent.

After being laid off in the aircraft field, Fogle took a skills test, and the results indicated he might be successful in the wastewater profession. At first, the idea didn’t appeal to him, but after some encouragement from an acquaintance, he decided to check it out. He toured two treatment plants and then enrolled in the Green River Community College in Auburn, intending to earn an associate degree in water and wastewater treatment.

By 2000, he had hired on as summer help at the Alderwood Water & Wastewater District in Lynnwood, where he met Tom Wilkie, then an operator at the Picnic Point treatment plant. When a water and wastewater position opened at a 60,000 gpd package plant at nearby Crystal Mountain ski resort, Wilkie advised Fogle to “Get your foot in the door and get your licenses.” And so he did.

“I took that job and dropped out of school to do it,” Fogle recalls. But he didn’t stop learning. Within 18 months of choosing his new career, he received state certifications for water distribution manager I and water treatment operator I, as well as wastewater treatment plant operator Group II.

Fogle returned full time at Alderwood’s 3 mgd activated sludge plant, where Wilkie had worked for some time. He calls Wilkie an inspiration because at Alderwood, he saw his mentor move from operator to supervisor and ultimately manager of the plant, a state-of-the-art membrane bioreactor facility.

After eight years, Fogle moved to the Southwestern Suburban Sewer District in Burien, which operates a 3 mgd rotating biological contactor plant. He might not have left Alderwood except for its location: He had to drive three hours round-trip and then work 10-hour days, and he also performed 24/7 on-call duty. He stayed at the Southwestern facility, much closer to home, for about 18 months.

Third time’s a charm

Fogle couldn’t get on at Lakehaven despite his qualifications. “When I started applying for an operator position four or five years ago, they had two positions open,” he says. “They were able to hire one person, and then were under a hiring freeze.”

For another posting 18 months later, Fogle got an interview and his references were checked, but he didn’t get hired because a crew member “bumped back into his operator position” after deciding a new spot he had taken with the district wasn’t a good fit.

When the position was advertised again, Fogle almost didn’t bother applying, but Chris McCalib, the Lakota plant’s wastewater operations manager, called him directly and explained the previous circumstances. This time, he got the job.

“We’re a fairly decent-sized plant, 6 mgd, and we’ve got a pretty big footprint,” Fogle says. The Lakota activated sludge plant serves about 22,000 customers using two of its four primary clarifiers, two of four aeration basins, three to four of the six final clarifiers, and a UV disinfection system (UltraTech Systems). The solids are managed through dissolved air flotation thickeners, anaerobic digesters and a screw press (Huber Technology) for dewatering. (The Redondo plant uses a biotower to treat wastewater.)

With the promotion to senior operator, Fogle says, “I got more compensation but a lot more responsibility.” He coordinates the work of six operators on staff, orders supplies, prepares weekly progress reports on plant projects and fills in when other crew members are absent.

His project experience at Alderwood serves the Lakota plant well. Fogle and his team have managed two significant projects that helped save the district hundreds of thousands of dollars: one for disinfection and one for solids dewatering. The crew includes Mike Ming, senior operator of the Redondo plant; Dave Hornung, operator III; Gary Cook, staff electrician; Scott Hastings, PLC and SCADA technician; and Herb Anderson, labor and industries re-trainee.

Better disinfection

The treatment plant used to buy commercial sodium hypochlorite in bulk for use in return activated sludge to control filamentous organisms, in the odor scrubber system, and in the nonpotable water system to manage regrowth.

As a cost-saving replacement, the district chose to lease-purchase an RIO M3 mixed-oxidant generator, commonly called MIOX (MIOX Corporation). Fogle and Hornung installed it. At first Fogle thought he was getting in over his head, but the two “got it figured out.”

The MIOX system was sitting on a pallet; the pressure regulators and various components were in a box. After checking with the manufacturer, Fogle and Hornung showed their rudimentary drawing for the plumbing to the product representative, who confirmed their design. They bought PVC fittings, piping and clamping and went to work. Cook made the electrical connections. Within two months the system was installed and commissioned. The only issue was high water pressure, caused by a water-source algae outbreak that fouled the filters.

“Now we have on-site generation and it’s all automatic,” Fogle says. “It’s been online for two years and will be paid off in two years, and we should see it pay for itself in about three years. With MIOX, everything was new. It was nice to manage a project where everything’s new instead of trying to bandage old and new together and having reliability problems.”

Improved cake

In 2011, the team then turned to the solids dewatering equipment. The district’s two belt filter presses were 25 years old and did not perform well. They produced cake at only 11 percent solids, resulting in what Fogle calls “outrageous” costs for transport to farmland.

The operations staff did research, talking to people in the industry including local product representatives and operators who worked with dewatering systems. After trials, the team selected a Rotamat RoS 3Q-800 screw press (Huber Technology).

“This was a more complex project,” Fogle says. It took a team of five a little over three months. One old belt filter press was on the second floor of the process building, anchored to the floor with a concrete tub around it. The team used saws and torches to disassemble the press, then lowered the pieces through a hatch in the floor and carted them out of the building for disposal.

“We then jack-hammered and ground the floor to remove the tub structure and re-poured the floor for the new press,” says Fogle. “We disassembled the new equipment and pulled it through the hatch, then made stands and anchored them to the new floor. Reassembly, plumbing and electrical work finished off the project. Scott Hastings programmed and automated the process.” The new screw press used the existing conveyor system.

After a year of operating the screw press, Fogle says the system has almost doubled efficiency, producing cake at 18 percent solids. “This unmanned press takes 22 hours to do a load, turns itself off and washes itself,” he says. “With the old belt filter press, you would have to babysit it all day long.”

Earned recognition

In 2012, McCalib nominated Fogle, then an operator III, for Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator of the Year. “At first it was shocking,” Fogle says. “Why would I get this? Then it was a pain because everyone was ribbing me.”

While still taking classes online and earning continuing education units, Fogle has attained the state’s highest level of certification — a Group IV wastewater license. With seven operators on staff, four of them on call, he wants the other three operators to become certified for on-call duty.

What keeps Fogle interested in the job? “Providing for my family is a big motivation. And the daily tasks are constantly changing. It never gets boring here. Something breaks or there’s a snag in the process and you get to figure it out.” He stops for a moment and adds, “But having things break — that same thing can drive you nuts.”

For those interested in pursuing wastewater treatment careers, he recommends continuous study and earning the highest certifications because, “You never know when opportunity will knock. I was in the right place at the right time, but I pushed myself on the certifications.”

When not working, Fogle can be found on the golf course teeing off with his wife: “Her prerequisite for dating me was that I had to play golf.” He also finds time to watch football and play with his grandchildren. There is less time now for restoring old cars, an earlier passion.

“As an operator, my number one job is to comply with our discharge permit limitations to protect the receiving waters we discharge to,” Fogle says. “I care about the waters. My family, my friends and I fish and crab in these waters, and I take my responsibility to protect our environment seriously.”

More Information

Boerger, LLC - 612/435-7300 -

Huber Technology, Inc. - 704/949-1010 -

Parkson Corporation - 888/727-5766 -

UltraTech Systems, Inc. - 845/225-5444 -


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