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Camden celebrates completion of wastewater treatment plant
WWTP - UV Lights
Ultraviolet (UV) lights glow from within the effluent facility, one of the last stops for treated wastewater at Camdens new plant before being discharged into the Wateree River. The UV system, developed by Wedeco, is said to be the most advanced in the world, making Camdens plant one of the most technologically advanced facilities in the world. - photo by Martin L. Cahn

About 50 people spent some time Nov. 13 to help the city of Camden celebrate the official grand opening of its new wastewater treatment plant. The plant, which cost around $35 million to build, actually began operating in late-February. The city chose to wait until late in the year to have a ribbon cutting ceremony and offer tours of the plant while it worked to drain the old plant’s remaining lagoon. The new plant replaces one built in 1979.

After welcoming several VIPs, Camden City Manager Mel Pearson reminded those assembled the process to build the plant started back in 2009.

“(There were) a lot of conversations, a lot of permit issues, a lot of consent orders that were levied on us by DHEC,” Pearson said, referring to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, “and, in most cases, rightly so. As hard as the city tried to manage two lagoons, it was a dead technology and the world had changed to the point where we needed to be putting out a much better effluent than what we were at that time.”

Pearson said the city knew a lot of money was going to be involved.

“In late 2009, we hired a man named Sam Davis. Sam was our project leader. He had some experience in doing this sort of thing and we were glad to get him,” Pearson said.

Pearson said the city was even happier to have hired Davis, now assistant public works director for the city, as the true costs of building the plant became apparent. He also said the city went through several iterations and choices regarding the technology the plant would employ. Pearson said Camden ended up choosing something he said “really is supposed to be the best in the world.”

Camden’s wastewater treatment plant initially chose Wedeco’s TAK55 UV (ultraviolet) disinfection system. Halfway through the plant’s construction, Wedeco released its newer Duron UV system and Camden became the first site in the world to incorporate the new technology.

“As that process developed, it kept getting more expensive,” Pearson said, referring to the need to redesign the plant to take advantage of the Duron system. “I shook my head and said, ‘Oh, no, I hate to think of borrowing that much money.’ (We) went through that iteration two or three times as well. Finally, we got within 10 days or so from a point in time where we felt like the South Carolina State Revolving Fund (SRF) … were going to give us the money to build this facility. And I’m still shaking my head, thinking, ‘Oh, no, I don’t want to borrow this much money.’”

So, he decided to “phone this one in” and went on vacation to Italy to see his son who was in the service there at that time. A few days later, he called Camden and found that Davis, Public Works Director Tom Couch and others involved in the process were successful in not only obtaining the SRF funds, but at an interest rate of only 2.25 percent.

“It was a good opportunity for us to do what needed to be done out here,” Pearson said.

He said the project is complete, but that there is a residual project of cleaning up the remaining, drained lagoon.

“You are standing on top of the secondary lagoon,” he announced, to the surprise of some of those attending the ceremony; he later said the remaining lagoon would ultimately be filled back in, grass planted and the city hopes to turn it into an educational facility where waterfowl and more can be studied. The city spent $2.3 million on site preparation work to make sure the ground would hold up the new plant. Pearson said the $35 million-plus project “stands complete” $1.8 million under budget.

Camden Mayor Tony Scully said economic development is rarely a one-man show, but a team effort often involving the city, county and private investment.

“In the case of the city of Camden, we are a team unto ourselves, a great team. Look before you at what this team has accomplished with the help of exceptional, talented engineers and a great construction crew, and the voices of our citizens who have confidence and an open and responsive city government,” Scully said. “Not one person, certainly not the mayor, can move the city forward without the cooperation and enthusiasm of city staff and city council -- each of whose members, including the mayor, has but one vote. This is what works.”

Scully went on to say that projects ranging from undergrounding utility lines to offering façade grants serves to create a prosperous, attractive city.

“If the city now seems to be working overtime on beautification -- at Commerce Alley, for example -- the point is not beauty for beauty’s sake, but laying the groundwork for the many interconnected components of economic transformation,” he said.

Scully noted Kershaw County Economic Development Director Peggy McClean would say that industries are attracted to sites already serviced with water and sewer, convenient interstate access, existing rail lines and international airports.

“Without that, quality of life might seem beside the point. Economic development addresses land, infrastructure, and yes, wastewater. Everything needed to serve our community, everything needed for a company to move here, and we now have the best wastewater plant in the country, I’m told,” he said.

Scully said Camden sits in the middle of the second fastest growing urban area of the country and the third biggest economic engine after the Boston-Washington and Chicago-Pittsburg corridors. In addition, he said South Carolina has the fastest growing economy on the East Coast, as part of an “innovation corridor” running between Raleigh, N.C., and Atlanta, with 22 million people and a $730 billion economy.

“In the Midlands, as we all know well, we are not yet there. We are still working and working hard to attract new industry. We have real challenges in front of us, but as you know, in the South, the long standing tradition is that nobody ever stops working for a better tomorrow and in the case of Camden and Kershaw County, that work is paying off,” Scully declared. “We have reason to dwell on hope. Look no further than here, today. Camden’s new wastewater plant … is on the cutting edge of technology and has a permitted peak capacity of 4 million gallons per day and can be readily expanded to 8 million gallons per day in the future.”

The mayor said the new plant makes Camden well prepared to take on future economic growth.

Mike McLamb, vice president of State Utility Contractors, which won the bid in 2012 to build the plant, talked about his company’s involvement.

“We did finish a little bit beyond the contract schedule, but the product that we have provided is superior to anything I’ve put up around this area,” McLamb said, noting his company was one of the smaller contacted about the project. “We have given every bit of heart and soul that we had to build this project. These men had the determination that we were going to build this project -- this is one of the largest projects that State Utility Contractors has ever done -- we’re very proud of it. I believe we gave everything we could give.”

McLamb said Camden’s wastewater treatment plant is a “well built” one with “excellent equipment.” He thanked several individuals, from partners to subcontractors, as well as Davis, Couch and City Building Official John Burns.

“Not one player could be left out, and that even goes down to the inspection department. Mr. Burns, we didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of stuff, but, brother, you did your job,” McLamb said, eliciting a round of laughter, “and I thank you for doing your job.”

He said the project included 12,000 cubic yards of concrete and that a lot of what makes the plant work is underground where it can’t be seen.

Tom Haseldon, vice president of URS Corporation, the city’s engineering firm on the project, said one of the best things to happen was negotiating an extended timeline from DHEC, which saved the city money. Originally, DHEC wanted the plant completed by March 2012. It then extended the deadline to August 2012. The agency later granted another 19-1/2 month extension, leading to the January 2014 completion date.

After that, Haseldon said, the firm and contractors worked with city staff to go through each process to make sure the plant’s operation would be reliable and energy efficient. Wastewater treatment in Camden begins with an anaerobic process requiring the total absence of free oxygen to remove phosphorous to almost non-detectable limits which can, otherwise, cause algae growth, Haseldon explained.

He said this process doesn’t use chemicals.

“We do have chemicals available in case the process has some upsets, but we have not had to chemicals thus far,” he said.

Haseldon said the anaerobic process is followed by an anoxic one, with only bound, or combined, oxygen, where solids from the plant’s aeration basins are brought back through the process in an effort to actually recover energy in order to reduced the use of lyme. Aeration basins are used to convert contaminants into solids uses a diffused air system which Haseldon said is the most energy efficient type.

“With that, we have some new technology in great, high efficient blowers,” he said, saying the plant probably saves at least 35 percent of its energy costs in that system.

Clarifers -- the huge round tanks most people associate with treatment plants -- separates the solids from the clear liquid. The clear liquid then heads to the effluent facility where the UV lamps are located which disinfects the water without any chemicals, such as chlorine, before it is discharged into the Wateree River.

Haseldon said Wedeco’s new UV system reduced maintenance costs by about half of the original UV system. Solids, he said, are sent to a “digester” and then stored before, periodically, being taken to area farms for use as fertilizer.

Wastewater Treatment Plant Maintenance Manager Richard Kirkland, who led one of several hour-long tours of the facility following the ribbon cutting, said the entire process of treating wastewater entering the facility takes about 25 to 30 hours.

Using the old lagoon process, he said, would have taken 25 to 30 days.