Operators Replace A Row Of Trees That Screened Their Facility From A Biking And Hiking Trail

Plant team members take on the task of replacing a row of trees that screened their facility from a popular biking and hiking trail.
Operators Replace A Row Of Trees That Screened Their Facility From A Biking And Hiking Trail
Some of the newly planted cedars are seen along the plant’s fence line with Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks in the background.

In spring 2011, a flood largely washed out a row of 15-foot-tall cedar trees that screened the Main Wastewater Treatment Plant from a biking and hiking pathway in Burlington, Vt.

Suddenly exposed to passers-by, the plant began to experience vandalism. What’s more, the absence of the trees detracted from the scenery on the pathway, which follows Lake Champlain. So Tim Grover, chief operator, and his team took it upon themselves to plant new cedars that in time will again screen the property.

Lots of water

The landscape at the 5.3 mgd (design) Main plant changed after the 2011 flood. Unusually heavy snowmelt and runoff from New York’s Adirondacks and Vermont’s Green Mountains raised Lake Champlain to more than 3 feet above flood stage, the highest level recorded.

Rising water covered the 6-mile-long shielding pathway and took most of the plant’s 10 mature cedars with it. The flood affected much of the lakefront and some of the city’s infrastructure, including the Main treatment plant, one of three the city operates.

“The flooding on the plant property caused some big hydraulic and equipment issues for about the next three weeks or so until the water receded,” recalls Grover. “But we were never totally out of commission and remained fully functional the whole time.”

The effluent flowmeter near the outfall became surcharged. The chlorine contact tank was backing up and the clarifiers were losing their hydraulic capacity. Higher-than-normal groundwater increased I&I flow to the facility, which could handle peaks up to 15 mgd. “If the lake had flooded another inch or two, we would have been in serious trouble with our gravity flow out of the plant,” says Grover.

Repair mode

While the plant staff worked to resolve the operational challenges, the city moved to repair and replace washed-out sections of the recreational pathway. In the process, workers removed the damaged trees as well as the remaining sound trees, opening the plant to clear view. During summer, as use of the pathway increased, vandals began attacking the clarifiers.

“Since the trees were gone, our plant was totally visible to anyone on the path, and sometimes someone would use one of our four clarifiers as a target for throwing rocks or rip-rap,” says Grover. “The clarifier would go out on torque, and every time that happened, it took six hours or more to recover the rocks and get the clarifier back online.”

Grover and his staff decided to replace the trees themselves when it became clear that doing so was not a high priority for the city crew, which was dealing with many other flooding issues. “We planted the trees because we were frustrated with the continuing vandalism,” Grover says.

Plant operators Matt Dow, Jim Fitzpatrick, Steve Perron and Steve Danyow all helped. Rather than wait for emergency funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, they bought 20 cedar trees with funds from the plant’s capital budget. They borrowed a backhoe from another city department and, using Grover’s landscaping experience from a previous career and advice from the nursery, they planted the 6-foot-tall trees in less than a week.

Keeping them growing

“They really did a good job,” says Grover, who admits he was on vacation at the time. “We’ve got a good crew, and they planted the trees and kept the plant running as usual.”

The team members used compost and peat moss during planting to make sure they complied with the warranty requirements of the nursery that provided the trees. Several dry spells followed the planting, so the operators watered the trees with buckets of water drawn from the lake. To deter vandals, they erected signs along the repaired pathway, warning that the area is monitored with security cameras.

Grover says the trees have not yet grown tall enough to provide total shielding, but all have survived and are well on their way to helping the plant team meet the goals of ending the vandalism and restoring a scenic asset along the recreational path.   


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