Life Is Never Dull for This New Hampshire Operator and His Team. There's Always a Project That Needs Their Expertise.

Jeff Backman and his team in a small New Hampshire community have accomplished great things by taking on significant improvements with in-house ingenuity and talent.

Life Is Never Dull for This New Hampshire Operator and His Team. There's Always a Project That Needs Their Expertise.

The Allenstown plant has a design capacity of 1.5 mgd and an average flow of 0.62 mgd.

When it came time to build a SCADA system for the Allenstown Wastewater Treatment Facility, the plant team didn’t have to look far for help.

Operator Jeff Backman and plant superintendent Dana Clement set the project in motion. On taking over as superintendent in 2015, Backman kept it on course. “I’ve been replacing our older PLCs with CompactLogix PLCs (Rockwell Automation),” says Backman.

“For all the controls I tie in, I try to use Ethernet-ready products. Our instrumentation all communicates over Ethernet. The HMI, the software that runs the plant, we built that all from the ground up.”

A homemade SCADA system is just one example of the work Backman and his team perform to help keep costs down for the 4,400 residents of their south-central New Hampshire community. “We do most of our fabrication and building in-house,” says Backman. “We know our skill level. There are things we just can’t handle, like major electrical projects. If we don’t know how to do something, we learn how to do it. But we also know our limits.”

Carl Caporale, an Allentown Sewer Commissioner from 2012-21, observes, “Jeff has the great ability to look forward at what’s next and plan ahead for the needs of the plant. He always presented the board with well-thought-out, signature-ready projects.”


Backman grew up in New Boston, about 30 minutes from Allenstown. After high school he earned an associate degree in water-quality technology from White Mountain Community College. Upon graduation he applied for three jobs, got three interviews and two job offers, and chose Allenstown because it was close to home. He has been there for 17 years.

Allenstown, a mostly residential community, lies north of Manchester and south of Concord, the state capital. It’s home to the 10,000-acre Bear Brook State Park, largest in the state. The treatment plant serves the towns of Allenstown and Pembroke, parts of which make up the village of Suncook.

The treatment plant was the first municipality in the United States to install the BioMag ballasted activated sludge process (Evoqua Water Technologies). Magnetite is added to the aeration basins and impregnates the floc before the wastewater goes to the secondary clarifiers. It allows the solids to settle faster. Effluent is disinfected with sodium hypochlorite and dechlorinated with sodium bisulfite before discharge to the Merrimack River.

Commissioned in 2011, the BioMag process increased the plant’s design capacity from 1.05 mgd to 1.5 mgd and freed Allenstown from a sewer extension moratorium the state Department of Environmental Services had imposed in 2004. Average plant flow is 0.62 mgd.

The rapid settling process helped overcome a key deficiency of the Allenstown plant: secondary clarifiers just 7 feet deep. The two 45-foot-diameter clarifiers have low hydraulic detention time. “The next challenge is to replace them,” says Backman. “The conceptual design is four 45-foot-diameter clarifiers with 14- to 15-foot depth.”


Another challenge involves dealing with a high volume of septage. Only about 45% of Allenstown is on sewers. The septage program began near the time Backman came on board. The plant began by charging haulers 8 cents per gallon.

“Then they lowered the price to 6 cents a gallon, and since then we have been getting over 20 million gallons per year,” Backman says. “Last year we were at 24 million gallons. In 2020 we had 26 million, and it was the same in 2019.” That volume includes septage, grease, portable restroom waste and a limited amount of landfill leachate.

True to form, the team built major components of the process in-house. That includes a receiving station with a kiosk where haulers enter a PIN code. They drive over a scale and are assigned to one of four lanes where they empty their tanks before weighing out.

The septage first enters one of four specially in-house- designed stainless steel rolloff cans built by Wastequip (Hi-Vac Corporation). Each holds 25 cubic yards. Grease passes through a Muffin Monster grinder (JWC Environmental) before blending with the septage.

In the cans the settleables and floatables separate by gravity. The liquid is drawn off by way of valves at the bottoms and is delivered to three 200,000-gallon storage tanks, which also receive waste activated sludge (the plant has neither digesters nor primary clarifiers).

“What makes us unique and able to handle as much septage as we do is the amount of storage we have,” Backman observes. “We don’t put the septage directly into the treatment process. It is pumped by three new progressive-cavity pumps (SEEPEX) straight to dewatering on three screw presses (HUBER Technology) installed in 2012-13.”

The storage tanks are stirred by a Rotamix hydraulic mixing system (Vaughan Company). “Before the Rotamix system we mixed our sludge, septage and grease with air from blowers,” Backman says. “When we mixed with air, we were getting odor complaints daily. With the Rotamix system, each of our storage tanks has six jet nozzles for mixing. Last year we only had two odor complaints.

Water separated from the solids on the screw presses is fed slowly into the process so that it can be treated efficiently. The solids are landfilled. Meanwhile, once any rolloff can has gravimetrically separated 400,000 gallons of septage, it is drained to thicken the residuals and remove any free liquids. The container contents are then sent to landfill.


While this and other processes run smoothly, life is never dull at Allenstown plant. A major project early in Backman’s tenure was the building of a new Suncook Pond Pump Station, funded by hauled-waste revenue at no cost to sewer users. It eliminated a section of sewer that ran under the Suncook River to Pembroke and then returned to the Allenstown plant. The station includes two 12-inch Gorman-Rupp pumps with that company’s controls. An 80 kW Kohler natural gas generator supplies emergency power.

A more recent project replaced the aging transfer switch that in case of a utility outage connects to a 1970 Cummins 450 kW diesel for backup power. A future project would extend sewers up Route 28 in Allenstown to a site planned for commercial development.

Meanwhile, plans are in place to secure funding for the new deeper clarifiers.” We anticipate getting a 30% grant for the engineering,” says Backman. “The remainder will be funded by sewer users. Once the engineering is done it looks promising for us to acquire funding under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. We’re hoping for 50%, but realistically it could be only 30%.”

Backman’s efforts drew praise from John Jackman, P.E., an asset management consultant who has worked at the plant: “Jeff runs the wastewater facility as a business and understands the need to provide a high level of service to customers. You can see this in the upgrades he has initiated and in the staff members who work for him.”


That staff includes Russell McMahon, operations foreman; Dan Chagnon, maintenance foreman; Kyle Gagnon, operator; Pret Tuthill, Scott Dukette, Corbin Ellsworth and Hobie Shireling, operations and maintenance technicians; and Jaye Wallace, administrative assistant.

“Everybody really likes coming to work,” Backman says. “Everybody gets along, and we get things done. We all have the attitude that we want to be here and we want to contribute. Everybody has a role that they fall into. I want to use what they’re good at and let them excel.”

Three consultants also function as part of the staff: Roxanna Chomas, Allenstown Wastewater assistant superintendent from 2015-21; previous superintendent Clement, still employed part time by the town; and Peter Boettcher, an electrical consultant. “These three have played an integral part in Allenstown’s and my own success,” notes Backman.

Backman’s primary interest is in information technology, and he applied that when developing the SCADA system (which uses Ignition software from Inductive Automation). “I get focused on something, and I can’t put it aside until I figure it out,” he says. “I just research it until I find a solution.”

McMahon, meanwhile, led a team in developing the plant’s asset management program. Two principal-forgiveness state loans of $30,000 helped get the project started. The program is built on the VUEWorks asset management system. The team started by GIS mapping the assets and then logging them into the system.

“Now we’re at a point where we’ve identified our assets,” says McMahon. “We have pictures of them. We have work orders to follow the prescribed maintenance criteria, whether it be applying a couple of pumps of grease or inspecting a belt.

“Everybody helps with the work orders. Even though it may seem mundane to do the same check of something every week, it gets us into areas where we see things we might not see if not directed to be there on a regular basis. We catch little things that we can nip in the bud.”


All that attention leads to a smooth-running plant that gives Backman time for recreation. In his spare time he enjoys hiking and climbing. He’s a member of New Hampshire’s 4,000-Footer Club, for having summited all 48 peaks in the White Mountains that exceed 4,000 feet of elevation. He also enjoys fishing for striped bass in the Atlantic Ocean.

Meanwhile some of his spare time goes to continuing education. He has taken community college classes in electricity and accounting, as well as public speaking, which comes in handy when addressing decision-makers and members of the public and budget review meetings.

His main interest, though, lies in the inner workings of the plant. “I like the technology of everything. I like working with computers. That’s where I would like to progress, with server and database administration.” 


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