Fitting Right In

Architecture, landscaping and odor and noise controls make a Texas treatment plant an unobtrusive part of a residential area.
Fitting Right In
The plant team includes, front row, from left: Richard Dennie, chief operator; James Watson and Gerald Smith, operator II; and David Luther, senior operator; back row: Omar Maisonet, maintenance mechanic I; Wendy Derdeyn, office coordinator; Claud Lesly, senior maintenance mechanic; Billy Hill, project manager; and John Wardell and Barry Beeson, operator II.

Being a good neighbor is a serious matter to the staff at the Red Oak Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility in the town of Red Oak near Waxahachie, Texas. That has been true since the plant was built in the late 1980s.

“The facility was built to preserve the rural ambience of the area surrounding the plant site,” says Billy Hill, project manager for Trinity River Authority (TRA), facility owner. Located close to Bells Chapel Road, a popular roadway serving several nearby neighborhoods, the plant is screened by trees and gently rolling berms that present a pastoral landscape to passers-by.

Well hidden

“People would have to go out of their way to see the plant,” says Hill. That’s because the grass-covered berms around the 43-acre site are 12 to 14 feet high. They took about a year to build and were crowned with hundreds of trees — elm, cedar, oak and persimmon — that have matured to 15 to 25 feet tall and shield the conventional activated sludge plant from view.

The facility’s low profile was enhanced by excavating limestone 4 to 6 feet below before grade construction. Low-level lighting, noise control features and odor control also help the plant fit in, says Hill. Light fixtures along the driveway are mounted close to the ground and direct the light down. On-site fixtures are aimed away from neighboring areas. Most lighting is controlled by sensors.

Blower noise is contained by using silencers and locating the blowers within buildings. Originally, the plant used chemicals to reduce hydrogen sulfide emissions, but biofilters have been added. “We also converted the primary clarifiers to aeration basins because they were the source of odors from the front,” says Hill. “So now it just has kind of an occasional earthy odor instead of a pungent, rotten-egg odor. We understand that if there is any kind of issue here at the plant, it will affect our neighbors.”

Positive impact

There are no signs or other markers on the roadway to identify the facility. An S-shaped roadway winds from Bells Chapel Road to the plant’s most outstanding feature — an administration building designed to look like a country home. A small sign is attached to the building. “Out of sight, out of mind,” says Hill.

The plant outfall is at the back of the property and flows about 100 yards into Red Oak Creek before the effluent makes its 25-mile journey to the Trinity River. The plant was originally sized for 3.5 mgd, but a recent capital improvement project increased design capacity to 6 mgd and peak flow to 15 mgd.

“Since it began operation in 1991, the plant has provided a positive environmental impact on the Red Oak Creek and Trinity River ecosystems,” says Hill. Among the many award plaques displayed on the walls in the administration building is a Platinum 13 Peak Performance Award from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, recognizing 13 years of consistent compliance with the plant’s NPDES permit.

The TRA considered several locations before building the Red Oak Creek facility, which serves about 60,000 residents in the southern portion of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Hill and his staff of nine are proud of the plant’s performance and their success in operating unobtrusively in a residential neighborhood. Says Hill: “I know I wouldn’t want to live right next to a place that didn’t care.”   


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