Jim Boyer Brings 30 Years’ Experience in Coaching, Teaching and Mentoring to His Role as Utility Superintendent

Jim Boyer brings 30 years’ experience in coaching, teaching and mentoring to his role as utility superintendent in Spring Hill.

Jim Boyer Brings 30 Years’ Experience in Coaching, Teaching and Mentoring to His Role as Utility Superintendent

Spring Hill Wastewater Treatment plant employees include, from left, Jim Boyer, utility superintendent; Jim Hendershot, assistant city manager; Brian Vance and Jay Heiman, wastewater maintenance worker II; and Dave Carr and Craig Freeman, utility foremen.

Jim Boyer learned about empathy at an early age. After his father became disabled from a serious accident, his mother ran the household and raised four children.

“My father’s right leg was amputated below the knee, and that was traumatic for me as a 7-year-old,” Boyer recalls. “But living through that and understanding what my parents went through taught me to have compassion for others. I try to demonstrate that to my staff today.”

Boyer believes he was intended to be a supervisor, a role he has fulfilled for almost 30 years: “I have always wanted to help people by leading by example, coaching, teaching and mentoring.”

For the past seven years, he has overseen operation and maintenance of the Spring Hill (Kansas) Wastewater Treatment Plant, wastewater collections system and water distribution system. About a year ago, he took responsibility for the stormwater infrastructure.

Among his accomplishments was managing the city’s water tower painting project from 2011-15. That involved improving the water system infrastructure so the tower could be bypassed with no loss of water service.

In 2017, Boyer received the Kansas Rural Water Association Utility Superintendent of the Year award for performance at Spring Hill and other communities.

Laying the groundwork

Boyer began work life as a trackman for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. “Terry Smith was my supervisor and one of my mentors,” he recalls. “He led by example. Whether we were driving spikes or replacing railroad ties, Terry was always right next to his crew. If not for him, I wouldn’t have become an assistant track foreman and eventually a track foreman. That first real job laid the groundwork for where I am today.”

After 12 years, he began his career in municipal utilities, first as city superintendent in a town of 450: “I did all the maintenance for the municipality. I knew basic electrical and construction, so I took ownership of the job and learned as much as I could.”

Boyer credits many people for his success “My wife, Rita, has taught me to trust my gut when I struggle with an issue or have to make a decision,” he says. “Even in hard times, she has always helped me see the way through. My parents endured extreme adversity but persevered and maintained a positive attitude for their children.” 

Jeff Rupp, Spring Hill assistant Public Works director, played a key role in Boyer’s career: “He inspired and challenged me to think outside the box. To this day, I use many of his strategies and policy approaches in my divisional operations.”

Multiple duties

As part of his responsibilities, Boyer oversees the wastewater collections system line cleaning program and coordinates budget and capital improvement projects with the city’s public works and finance directors. He also prepares annual municipal and irrigation water use reports, conducts annual BOD and TSS wastewater collection grab sampling, and performs utility infrastructure inspections for new construction.

He speaks highly of his boss, Jim Hendershot, assistant city administrator: “He demonstrates a high level of character and integrity and is supportive to all of his Public Works staff.”

Boyer also appreciates his team: “The camaraderie is what makes us special. We try to have fun and not take ourselves too seriously. We also lift each other up in trying times. It makes for a long day if you’re down and out.” Team members are:

  • Dave Carr, utility foreman, (Class IV wastewater and Class II water supply system certifications), five years at the plant.
  • Craig Freeman, utility foreman (Class I water supply system and wastewater certifications), 15 years at the plant.
  • Brian Vance, utility maintenance worker II/operator trainee, (Class II water supply system).
  • Jay Heiman, utility maintenance worker II/operator-in-training.

Carr operates and maintains the wastewater plant and sends wastewater discharge monitoring and other reports to the state. Vance maintains and repairs the collections system, including the lift stations and a four-cell lagoon. Heiman maintains and repairs water service lines and meters and assists with wastewater collection. Freeman maintains and repairs water mains and assists with wastewater collection.

Efficient plant

Spring Hill (population 5,500) lies a few miles south of Kansas City. Its 1.25 mgd (design) treatment plant was built in 2002; it uses a Schreiber GR extended aeration activated sludge process. Average daily flow is 0.463 mgd. BOD and TSS removal averages 96 to 99 percent; monthly average effluent BOD discharged to Sweetwater Creek is 3.3 to 4.4 mg/L; TSS is 3.79 mg/L. “Analytical tests for these constituents have shown nondetect at various times of the year,” Boyer says. Equipment includes:

  • Three ABS influent submersible pumps (Sulzer Pumps Solutions).
  • Sernagiotto (Evoqua Water Technologies) belt filter press.
  • Aerzen aeration blowers.
  • Spencer Turbine sludge basin digester blowers.
  • SEEPEX belt filter press sludge pump.
  • WEDECO - a Xylem Brand UV disinfection system.

A 0.3 mgd four-cell lagoon system treated wastewater before the plant was built to handle population growth. Today, some inflow & infiltration is manually diverted there before being piped to the plant.

Reducing nutrients

Spring Hill and other facilities were placed on a Kansas Department of Health and Environment watchlist for the past few years to see if they could reduce nutrient levels through mechanical adjustments.

“Although our plant is not designed for nutrient removal, we were able to maximize removal to achieve our targets,” Boyer says. “We did this by adjusting the aeration blower on/off setpoints to regulate dissolved oxygen in the mixed liquor.” The staff found the DO “sweet spot” by making small incremental adjustments each month after receiving lab results.

Although the health department has not set phosphorus or nitrogen limits, Spring Hill has met its target monthly average of 1.0 to 1.5 mg/L for total phosphorus with effluent at 1.46 mg/L. A monthly average of 5.54 mg/L for nitrogen is far better than the target of 8.0 to 10.0 mg/L. As a result, the plant was removed from the watchlist.

Painting the tower

Another feather in Boyer’s cap is the successful water tower painting project. “We had to first improve the water system infrastructure so we could operate and function from just the ground storage tank,” he says. The project involved:

  • Installing isolation valves near the tower and installing a bypass line.
  • Upgrading the SCADA system so the water system booster pumps could function by pressure control rather than elevation control.
  • Installing VFDs on each booster pump, repairing or replacing pump motors, and installing new motor wiring circuits/cables at the ground storage tank booster pump station.
  • Drafting an emergency response matrix plan and conducting system testing and employee training.
  • Obtaining project financing and consulting and coordinating with engineers, contractors, and city staff.

When the project began, the city’s 725,000-gallon storage capacity was reduced to 475,000 gallons, the amount in the ground storage tank. “We implemented a mandatory water restriction to reduce water consumption so there would be some water storage for firefighting needs,” Boyer says.

Although it took four years to complete, the project was a success: “It could not have happened without the involvement of many people inside and outside the city. It didn’t interrupt water service; our customers were not even aware it was going on.”

Staying put

The city plans to conduct a wastewater plant upgrade study next year. “Depending on the results, we may have to upgrade certain plant components in five years,” Boyer says. “The city is growing, and the new development has given the utilities division more work and responsibility.”

Looking back, Boyer’s only regret is that it took him so long to enter the clean-water profession: “I enjoy what I do and feel fortunate to be at the level I am since I don’t have a college education. Somewhere along the line, I must have demonstrated that I had the skills and knowledge to move up.”

Although now approaching retirement age, he intends to stay put. “Retirement may be looming, but that is not what I want to do as long as I’m still physically able and mentally engaged as a superintendent.” As a personal goal, Boyer would like to obtain utility management certification through the National Rural Water Association.

He doesn’t need retirement to enjoy his family and hobbies. He likes spending time with his grandkids and fishing with them in nearby lakes. He and Rita tend a 400-square-foot garden; he also makes his own beer: “I kind of cheat because I don’t use the malt or barley grains but buy the prepackaged hopped malt extract. I still have to boil, brew and bottle the beer though!”

Stormy weather

The Spring Hill (Kansas) Wastewater Treatment Plant faced a challenge on Aug. 21, 2017, when 13 inches of rain fell in eight hours.

“It rained all night,” says Jim Boyer, utility superintendent. “Sweetwater Creek overflowed, and the main digester basin flooded. It was the worst event at the plant since I’ve been there.”

Jay Heiman, utility maintenance worker II, was on call that night. “After several hours of rain that evening, Jay took the initiative to investigate our city facilities to see if anything was flooded or damaged,” Boyer recalls.

Heiman arrived at the plant 3 a.m. on Aug. 22 to find the creek overflowing and floodwater entering two buildings and the sludge storage digester basin. Two blower motors in the digester blower building and the sludge pump motor in the water supply building were compromised. About 5 feet of water covered the digester basin walls and flooded the electrical control cabinet to the supernatant pump.

“Jay called me, and I set out for the plant, 35 miles away,” Boyer says. “The route I normally take was flooded, so I had to double back and take another route. By the time I got there at 4:30 a.m., the rain was subsiding and the floodwater was receding. Not much could be done until about 9 a.m. when the floodwater had drained away.”

Utilities division staff were able to waste the activated sludge for several days before they had to operate the belt filter press. That gave them time to repair and reinstall the motors that drove the pumps and aeration blowers. Plant cleanup took several weeks. “The most difficult thing was dealing with cleanup and equipment repairs, and performing our daily routine tasks at the same time,” Boyer says.

On the plus side, the event gave the plant staff the chance to reflect and assess the facility’s vulnerability: “Flood mitigation is going to be one of my priorities for a capital improvement project at the facility.”


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