Neither Construction nor Chaos Could Stop These Operators

Silent Hero Award winners soldier on through multiple challenges to help a major Nova Scotia wastewater treatment project come in on time and under budget.
Neither Construction nor Chaos Could Stop These Operators
Philip Winter, plant supervisor, strolls along the secondary clarifiers (Polychem) at the Eastern Passage Wastewater Treatment Facility.

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They were indispensable. Five professionals kept on going amid the chaos of building a new wastewater treatment plant in Nova Scotia, working around the existing facility without missing a beat.

With a combined 85-plus years’ experience, the operations team was essential in shepherding the $64 million project that expanded and upgraded the Eastern Passage Wastewater Treatment Facility in Halifax, ensuring discharge of clean water into Halifax Harbour.

For performing under such challenging conditions, the Halifax Water crew earned the 2015 Silent Hero Award from the Atlantic Canada Water & Wastewater Association, a section of AWWA. Launched in 2005, the award goes to operators from the Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland/Labrador areas who go beyond the call of duty to serve their communities.

The honor went last October to Philip Winter, plant supervisor; operators Evan Beaton, Andrew Eisan and Ryan Gould (who has since left the plant); and Donald MacDonald, building process maintainer. The citation reads, in part, “Their dedication and pride in their work was evident throughout the project and helped make the facility a success story. The operators put extra effort in when needed, especially during the early parts of the break-in period when numerous alarm callouts occurred.”

Describing the award, Robert Gillis, project engineer, says, “We found Silent Hero very fitting because these people typically don’t want to be in the spotlight; they want to be behind the scenes and provide safe drinking water and environmentally responsible discharge of wastewater. They do their jobs without any complaints, they work hard, take pride and have a passion for what they do.”

Enormous project

They needed a lot of passion: The design-build project was the largest capital program Halifax Water had undertaken since its creation in 2007, and it tested everyone’s mettle.

Construction started in November 2011, and ended two years later. Four factors drove the renovation of the 42-year-old plant: asset renewal, expansion for community growth, an upgrade from primary treatment to secondary treatment, and compliance with municipal, regional and national environmental regulations.

The new 19.1 mgd (design) conventional activated sludge plant, one of the largest secondary wastewater facilities in Atlantic Canada, serves 38,000 residents in the communities of Cole Harbour and Eastern Passage. It is designed to handle 50,000 or more over a projected 25-year life.

The facility is highly automated and energy efficient: Energy cost savings over its design life are projected at $7.7 million. Most important, the plant meets its discharge limits for BOD, TSS and fecal coliform.

Frenzied activity

Gillis, who joined the Halifax Water Utility in 2011, says the big challenge was keeping the existing plant operating during the project. That meant business as usual even while the new facility was being built, new pipes installed and new processes implemented. Thanks to strong teamwork, construction went smoothly. In fact, the project came in right on schedule, $500,000 under budget and with operating performance that exceeded regulatory limits.

“It was one big construction site,” says Gillis, who sold water/wastewater equipment for 13 years. “There were trailers, tons of debris and a lot of noise and congestion with 50 to 100 contract workers running around, plus dirt from all the digging. Team members jumped in right from the start. Not only did they have to do their normal work, but they were also tasked with reviewing drawings of the new facility and providing comments on the layout of piping, pumps, equipment and accessories to determine their impact on lab work and treatment processes.”

Winter, plant supervisor for six years, credits “excellent teamwork” for the project’s success. He cites close cooperation between the operators and the construction team from Maple Reinders Constructors of Mississauga, Ontario, and Maxim 2000 Construction of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

Team contributions

“Since the construction was around the existing plant in a horseshoe shape, with the old plant sitting in the middle, disruption wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” says Winter, a Canadian who earned his Class IV wastewater certification while working at an industrial treatment plant in South Carolina. “Our contractors did a good job, and there was only a moderate degree of chaos because the project was so well planned. That said, we did the best we could with what we had, and the quality of our treatment didn’t degrade during the construction process.”

A wastewater professional since 1984, Winter was working at a wastewater plant in another province when he saw an ad in a newspaper for the plant supervisor’s job in Halifax. He applied and was hired. He has an associate degree in mechanical engineering from Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Ontario. He worked for seven years in North and South Carolina as a wastewater treatment operator for a poultry processor.

Startup proves challenging

Even with Winter’s long experience, the startup proved trying. Mud and debris had to be cleaned up after construction. Crews had to learn to operate new equipment, get up to speed on the secondary treatment system, and perform on-site biosolids processing. It took time to stabilize processes to get the desired results, but after a few months of shakeout, the plant lived up to expectations. The facility had no trouble getting to less than 10 mg/L TSS, and average about 8 mg/L.

Beaton, a 14-year veteran, admits it was tough to work during plant construction, citing communications obstacles and numerous channels to navigate. “Several tiers of command — concrete pourers, electricians, engineers from the component side and engineers from our side — sometimes made it difficult to know what was going on until we were halfway through,” he says.

He’s grateful that the utility and contractors offered courses to help him and his colleagues climb the steep learning curve. Over the two years, Beaton learned about specifications for the new pumps and dewatering equipment, how to add polymer and perform chemical analysis with updated systems, and how to operate new centrifuges, aerators and a new UV disinfection process.

From ice to wastewater

Beaton saw the project as another step in his development. Before joining the Eastern Passage plant, he worked for the city of Halifax in the ice rink system. After a few years, he got “tired of working nights and weekends and feeling cold even in the summer.” He joined the treatment plant as a process assistant and earned his Class II wastewater certification.

A native of Cape Breton Island, Beaton attended Chancellor Regional Vocational School (now part of the Nova Scotia Community College system), and took a two-year program in TV and radio repair. A recession prompted him to move to Halifax, where he settled down and married.

Working at the treatment plant has been a good move: “There are certain obstacles to be met, but it’s not the same-old, same-old grind. Even though we’ve worked out most of the bugs in the new facility, it’s always something different every day. That keeps me motivated.”

Diverse background

Eisan, a Class IV operator, has been in the Canadian wastewater business for 26 years. He previously worked at the Fall River and Timberlea wastewater treatment plants (both in Halifax suburbs), and some smaller plants in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Eisan, a Halifax native, attended Holland College, a community college in Prince Edward Island, where he took a two-year program in conservation studies. When his college career didn’t work out, he found a job as a summer intern at a leachate treatment facility on a landfill site. From there, he worked at a treatment plant at Aerotech Park near Halifax International Airport.

“While this big renovation project had its share of challenges, for us it was business as usual, keeping the old plant running as it had,” says Eisan. “There were a lot of contractors. You’d go to work one day and think you’d be working on something, and then they’d want to try something else and you had to accommodate them. Our schedules were compromised. That was tough getting used to, but we did.”

Staying the course

The Silent Hero Award winners aren’t resting on their laurels; they’re way too busy. The operators work in three-person teams that do everything from process changes to centrifuge operation, to monitoring of sludge levels in the primary and secondary clarifiers, to laboratory testing and equipment maintenance.

MacDonald is the plant’s jack of all trades. A given day might find him fixing a drum thickener, doing spring cleanup, applying touch-up paint or doing light carpentry.

With the Eastern Passage facility up and running smoothly, Winter, Beaton, Eisan and MacDonald are doing what they’ve always done: working hard to provide effective, reliable, affordable wastewater treatment to residents of the Halifax community. It’s what heroes do.

Scaling the learning curve

The $64 million expansion and upgrade of the Eastern Passage Wastewater Treatment Facility required operators to get up to speed on a range of equipment and processes. These included:

  • A renovated headworks with a new building, fine screens and vortex grit removal (Veolia).
  • An activated sludge system with new aeration tanks (Sanitaire) and secondary clarifiers (Polychem).
  • A UV disinfection system (TrojanUV).
  • A three-stage odor-control system (Enduro) with bio-scrubber, biofilter and carbon filter.

The upgrade also includes a new solids management facility in which waste activated sludge is thickened using drum thickeners (Parkson) before being mixed with primary sludge and dewatered with centrifuges (Flottweg) to 35 percent solids. The material is ultimately trucked to a facility where it is converted to a Class A biosolids product (N-Viro process, Walker Industries).

“As with any new construction, there were startup and commissioning issues,” says Robert Gillis, project engineer. “That meant a lot of alarm calls at night and a lot of testing to make sure plant performance met expectations. It also meant that operators had to do sampling every four hours, even on weekends and holidays. They did all that without complaints.”


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