This week Shawnee City Commissioners heard a presentation from C.H. Guernsey & Company, a firm that has been assessing the needs of the city's three water and wastewater plants for an overhaul.

This week Shawnee City Commissioners heard a presentation from C.H. Guernsey & Company, a firm that has been assessing the needs of the city's three water and wastewater plants for an overhaul.

The three plants are past their prime and will be costly to upgrade or rebuild.

The board and city leaders talked at-length at a workshop last January to address the aging system.

Guernsey Project Manager Larry Roach explained that his team has been looking into the city's options for improving the plants.

Given that they are decades old, they are in very good shape, he said.

“You have a water treatment staff who knows how to operate those moving parts,” he said. “I've looked at hundreds of plants and it's very well-maintained.”

Still, Shawnee's treatment plants have far-surpassed their intended useful lifespan, Roach said.

The operating staff at all three of the plants have extended that life to a period now the city has got to do something, he said.

The south-side water plant is antiquated and dismal — it's been kept in compliance by hard work and diligence, Roach said.

“It is past its useful life and has to go,” he said.

A new plant is required there, he said; the site planned for the new plant is next to the existing one, so everything can stay in operation while it is under construction.

Roach said he actually was the project manager for the north-side plant in 1982.

“It's done really well,” he said. “Originally it was supposed to be a small industrial wastewater treatment plant; Shawnee way exceeded the expectations that were supposed to go to that plant years ago.”

He said it was modified one time, in 1995.

“It's doing really well,” he said, “but all growth is going occur there; we've got to facilitate that growth.”

Roach said a big issue that needs to be rectified is the amount of grit not being adequately filtered out.

“It messes up the downstream operation,” he said.

The problem is a deficient treatment process that the improvements can fix, Roach said.

“What we designed will fix it,” he said. “What is supposed to happen is the system should get 95 percent of the grit out (and it goes to the dumpster or landfill); right now we're getting 20 to 25 percent of the grit out, so it goes downstream into the treatment units and clogs up everything.”

It's a big nuisance for the operating personnel and it decreases efficiency of the whole operation, he said.

“The grit removal system I designed in 1982 was replaced in 1996 and it had an air pump system instead of a mechanical pump system,” he said. “It's ineffective; it doesn't get the grit out of the unit.”

Roach said grit-removal technology has increased substantially.

“Basically what we've got there now is irreparable and will never work,” he said — and it would take twice the equipment to make it function, as-is.

Another needed addition is a 5 million gallon wet-weather holding basin.

“It will basically extend the life of this plant — the other existing unit processes for 20 years,” Roach said. “Those two elements are have-to-haves, not nice-to-haves.”

He said there's only one water treatment plant, so water will have to be provided out of that plant.

A must-have for that site is a new clarifier to meet ODEQ requirements and good engineering practice, he said.

“Some piping needs to be done and the backwash system needs to be added,” he said.

Roach said Shawnee's current system is in the dark ages.

“We are using a bunch of people operating these plants 24/7,” he said. “Most plants of similar size can be operated with one shift operation and iPads at home with alarms.”

He said a lot of the system will be automated and staff will be repurposed in areas with the most need.

There is substantial benefit from all the proposed upgrades, he said.

“This (plan as a whole) is a bare-bones, have-to-have situation,” he said. “There's no fat to be found in the project.”

“Maybe about $2.5 million could be deferred, for two or three or four years,” he said.

Roach said the city is not in a crisis over the situation.

“We're at the right time, at the right place to do the capital improvement the city needs,” he said.

The upgrades will buy the city some time.

“The south-side improvements will take care of treatment for 50 years,” he said. “The north-side and water treatment plant improvements will take care of the city for 20 years; after that, you're going to have to do something different.”

The $39.46 million project is manageable, Roach said.

“It could go up; there are drilling rigs on all three properties finding out what exactly the subsurface conditions are,” he said.

Roach said the south side plant was built on a landfill, which impacts the foundations that you're going to be able to use — and ultimately may impact the cost of the foundation work.

The timeline includes six months for design work on the north-side plant, nine months on the south-side plant and then construction on both projects.

“We can do them concurrently,” he said.

Roach said his firm's plan also is designed to accommodate future growth.

He has said city staff has done the community a huge service by being anticipatory — seeing that it's an issue that will need to be addressed soon — and is tackling it now.

Watch for updates.