The clock is ticking on the Paris wastewater treatment plant north of town off Highway 271 as efforts are underway to rehabilitate the aging facility, which dates to Camp Maxey days during World War II.

Engineering work gained approval at Monday night’s Paris City Council meeting with the approval of a $370,000 engineering contract, the first step in a process expected to take six or seven years to complete. The engineering agreement was made with Garver USA, based in North Little Rock, Arkansas, to evaluate the needs of the 60-year-old plant, provide load projections 20 years out and assist with partial funding through the Texas Water Development Board.

Meanwhile, Paris Utility Department workers are keeping their fingers crossed the catastrophic failure predicted four years ago by then plant superintendent James Hinckley holds off until major issues are resolved during renovation, an effort expected to cost city residents in excess of $30 million on utility bills.

“Within the next 10 years, there will be catastrophic failures out there,” Hinckley told the council in March 2015. “The orbital walls are steps away from caving in.”

Current plant superintendent Timothy Bright on Wednesday said cracks were found in the gunite walls of the orbital aeration basins in 2010 during the last eight-to-10-year cleaning cycle.

“The sooner we get started on revitalization, the better,” Bright said.

The wastewater treatment plant processes roughly 4.2 million gallons of sewage a day through about a 10-step process using microbiological organisms to break down solids before liquids and sludge are separated and treated. The process takes about 22 hours and the plant runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Water is chemically treated with chlorine and sulphur dioxide (to remove chlorine) before being discharged as non-potable water into Hicks Creek, which flows into Pine Creek and then the Red River.

“The primary difference between water treatment and wastewater treatment is water treatment is primarily a chemical process and wastewater treatment is a biological process,” Utilities Director Doug Harris said, explaining the importance of large orbital aeration basins where aeration discs add air to sewer water to increase the effectiveness of microorganisms. “On the wastewater side, the goal is to use as few chemicals as possible and let nature do the treatment.”

Sludge, or leftover components, goes through an auto-thermophilic aerobic digestion system, where it is polymerized to bond particles together, slightly dewaterized and goes into aerobic reactors that heats it to about 160 degrees Fahrenheit for disinfectant purposes.

“At that point, it is considered Class A sludge and in the state of Texas you can do just about anything with it,” Bright said. “In the past, we have applied it to a 200-acre pasture next to the plant but just this week we have a new rotary fan press, which dewaterizes sludge to meet landfill requirements.”

Because of excessive rainfall the past two years, Bright said spreading sludge on land has become problematic; thus, the need for an alternative method and the purchase of the rotary fan press.

At Monday’s council meeting, Harris talked about the importance of both an automatic bar screen at the equalization basin off Stillhouse in operation about four months and the sludge press installed this week. The bar screen removes a large portion of inorganic materials before wastewater reaches the main plant and has reduced the amount of wear and tear on pumps and valves.

About next steps toward revitalization, Harris said engineers will evaluate the infrastructure at the plant and return with information about what pieces of equipment are still good and what needs to be replaced.

“Our goal is to reuse as much of what we have, but we won’t know what is reusable until we get that first engineering report,” Harris said.

Mary Madewell is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6976 or at mary.madewell@theparisnews.com.

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