2012-08-08 / Front Page

Council Addresses WWTP Allegations, Shows PowerPoint Timeline Of Events

Public Open House To Be Held On Saturday; Guided Tours Planned
by Michael Stanley
Staff Writer


Spencer Town Councilman Dean Bruce speaks to the crowd during Monday night’s town council meeting regarding recent allegations and a timeline of events surrounding the town’s waste water treatment facility. A February inspection by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management led to the resignation of the plant’s former operator. (Staff Photo) Spencer Town Councilman Dean Bruce speaks to the crowd during Monday night’s town council meeting regarding recent allegations and a timeline of events surrounding the town’s waste water treatment facility. A February inspection by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management led to the resignation of the plant’s former operator. (Staff Photo) Hoping to dispel many ongoing allegations surrounding the Town of Spencer’s Waste Water Treatment Plant, council members spoke candidly with members of the general public in attendance for Monday night’s meeting of the Spencer Town Council.

Councilman Dean Bruce provided a PowerPoint presentation that provided responses to current allegations, as well as a timeline of events.

Bruce noted that an inspection of the town’s facilities took place on February 1, 2012 following a request made in early January by councilman Jon Stantz to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) for an unannounced inspection.

Spencer Town Councilman Dean Bruce points out details of an IDEM inspection conducted February 1, 2012 at the town’s waste water treatment plant. (Staff Photo)Spencer Town Councilman Dean Bruce points out details of an IDEM inspection conducted February 1, 2012 at the town’s waste water treatment plant. (Staff Photo)Bruce said that the ordeal began on December 29, 2011 when he was contacted by former employee Jim Groh, who outlined the following two primary concerns: a pay increase for himself, and possible wrong doing in regards to reports, samplings and waste water treatment plant operations. Bruce said the photos provided by Groh, which have also appeared on recent television newscasts, were taken in April of 2011.

During the February 1st inspection, violations were discovered by new IDEM Inspector Scot Smith, who took over for longtime inspector Ron Pearson upon his retirement. While Pearson had never cited the town’s facilities nor its plant operator, Smith found several issues.

A review of more than three years’ worth of IDEM inspection reports showed all areas evaluated during inspection were listed as “satisfactory;” the reports has noted that “No violations were discovered.” Prior to the 2012 inspection, the most recent report was issued on June 20, 2011.

The Town of Spencer received results of the February 1st inspection report on February 24th and responded to the letter on March 24th, showing corrections to violations and a plan for future compliance.

With no activity related to the matter taking place in either April or May, Dean noted that former plant operator Shelley Edwards re- ceived a consent decree decertifying him as a plant operator on June 5th, at which time Edwards notified the town council.

The town made contact with the plant’s engineer, GRW, and vendors of treatment plant equipment on June 21st and received recommendations to improve the plant’s operations on June 26th.

During the council’s first meeting of July, Edwards resigned from his position as plant operator and was granted a request to remain employed as a maintenance worker, although at a reduced pay rate. During that same meeting, the council hired John Hodge as the temporary plant operator. Hodge is a full-time employee of the Dillman Waste Water Treatment facility in Bloomington, which conducts testing for the Spencer facility.

Also on July 2nd, IDEM signed and put into effect the Agreed Order which stripped Edwards of his plant operator’s license.

Hodge returned to the council’s next meeting on July 16 to report that the plant was back in compliance with IDEM regulations.

The February inspection report highlighted issues found and noted six of 15 areas with “satisfactory” ratings. The plant’s effluent appearance, effluent limits and the facility received “marginal” ratings. There were also four areas rated “unsatisfactory,” including self-monitoring, flow measurement, laboratory and records/reports.

The self-monitoring program was reportedly nonexistent, with no sample log for review. The flow monitoring was cited because the flow meter had not been calibrated since 2008. The laboratory issues indicated inadequate bench sheets, and bench sheets were not available for records.

The effluent appearance was rated “marginal” due to slight turbidity or cloudiness, while the facility itself was rated “marginal” due to slight algae growth in the contact tank. The effluent limits violations were also rated “marginal” because records indicated effluent violations. Lastly, the receiving stream of water, the West Fork of the White River, had no notable color or sheen.

The report also shared positive findings, including the fact that the facility’s standby generator was regularly tested and that the facility was equipped with an adequate alarm system. Access to treatment units and to the discharge out fall was found to be “adequate,” while all units of treatment appeared to be operating efficiently. There was a report of good mixing and color was noted in the aeration system.

The report also said maintenance activities such as cleaning and repairs were documented on the operator’s daily logs, while lift stations were checked regularly with alarms in place. A records review indicated adequate wasting and removal of records.

Bruce said the town council is continuing to investigate the ordeal, with several questions submitted to IDEM yet to be answered. He said that while the town had contacted IDEM to perform the inspection, a separate investigation was being conducted at the same time by IDEM after the agency was contacted by Jim Groh. Essentially, Dean said, it appears two investigations were been conducted by IDEM simultaneously, without one having knowledge of the other.

Upon questioning IDEM representatives about why the town was not notified of the inspection report results, the council was told that it is “not customary to contact the municipality.”

Council president Cynthia Hyde emphasized that elected officials are held to a much higher standard than most citizens and noted that all the proper steps were taken by the board to correct any and all issues found during the inspection of the town’s waste water treatment plant.

A public open house will be held this coming Saturday, August 11, at the Spencer Waste Water Treatment Plant. The event will be held from 10:00 a.m. until 12 noon in an effort to help visitors learn more about the plant’s operations. Tours will be given every 30 minutes and citizens will have the opportunity to meet the plant operator. Town council members Cynthia Hyde, Dean Bruce and Jon Stantz will also be on hand to answer questions.

The Spencer Waste Water Treatment Plant is located at 770 West Market Street.

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