After approving a $1.8 million contract to remove sludge from the Domestic Water Treatment Plant (DWTP) at its Dec. 3 meeting, Hollister City Council members and members-elect asked staff to draw up a plan for dealing with sludge in the future.
Initially, Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said he wanted to postpone the decision for two reasons: to have more time to come up with a long-term solution instead of dealing with the issue in an emergency, and to allow the new councilmembers to be involved.
But Management Services Director Mike Chambless and Jim Heitzman, general manager of Veolia Environmental Services, said that it was urgent to remove sludge as soon as possible because rain could cause a spill into surrounding areas. In light of this, the council agreed to remove about 2,000 tons instead of the 5,400 tons Chambless requested.
The council estimates the approved tonnage will give the city about a three-year-window to construct a plan.
Velazquez said, “Obviously, again, something has to be done now. I can see that. We don’t want the spill happening. But to request $4.5 million right now I think it’s just a bad option.”
Heitzman said it was possible that a 1 million-gallon spill could occur because of rain. He added that it would cost the city between $21 and $24 a gallon to clean.
Velazquez suggested the council be updated on the ponds and wastewater treatment plant every six months to a year so the city isn’t exposed to emergency situations.
Councilwoman Carol Lenoir said there are options for dealing with the issue, including drying beds and equalization tanks.
Another concern was wastewater “kidney stones,” as City Manager Bill Avera called them, getting into the plant.
“If we pump that pond to the plant and this to the plant your millions of dollars of membranes are at risk,” Heitzman said as he held a rock-like object composed of ammonia, phosphate and magnesium.
According to the International Journal of Environmental Science and Development, naturally occurring phosphate precipitates, struvite being the most common, can require additional maintenance and pumping costs. It also reduces pipeline system capacity.
District 4 Councilmember-elect Marty Richman said the interim option was the better solution and that in the future he expects a more comprehensive staff report that shows all the options for the council.
District 2 Councilmember-elect Rolan Resendiz asked whether Synagro, the company selected to remove the sludge, would honor the $4.5 million contract price if their services were sought by the new council.
No representative from Synagro spoke during the meeting.
According to the meeting agenda packet, the city of Hollister will pay $851 per ton for sludge removal; in 2014, the cost was $1,521 per ton.
Resendiz also said he felt uncomfortable with how staff presented the action in an emergency manner and not in a timely way. He also called Heitzman’s demonstration of what he thought to be dry sludge “theatrical” before Avera clarified it was a “kidney stone.”
“City Council just found out about this and we cannot operate like that,” Resendiz said. “I’m not up here to point fingers at anybody, but I don’t feel comfortable or competent spending $4.5 million.”
The new council was sworn in a few days after on Dec. 10.