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Wheeling Officials Look To Clear the Air on Sewage Plant Issue

Wheeling officials are working to remedy the situation after a malfunction of equipment at the city’s wastewater treatment plant earlier this year led to an accumulation of thousands of tons of sludge at the site, resulting in unpleasant smells. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

WHEELING — Contractors and officials in the city of Wheeling continue to remedy what literally has been a lingering issue at the city’s sewage treatment plant — where a sludge overload has caused an unpleasant situation.

On Wednesday, Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron said work is ongoing to remove a massive amount of sludge from the facility. He said about 140 tons of sludge were being removed from the site on a daily basis, and the plan was to have zero sludge at the plant by the end of the year — which is uncommon. However, in the wake of the stinky dilemma that unfolded this year, a sludge-free plant will be a breath of fresh air.

“We’re being very aggressive with it because we’re going to be down to zero,” Herron said Wednesday.

“That doesn’t happen very often. We usually keep a certain amount in there.”

Over the past several weeks, Wheeling City Council members representing constituents in city wards affected by the sludge stench have requested updates from the city manager on progress being made to remedy the situation. Ward 2 Councilman Ben Seidler, whose constituency includes residents who live on Wheeling Island, and Ward 3 Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum, whose ward includes Center Wheeling, both sought answers from the city manager during council meetings in October and November.

Seidler noted that areas within a whiff of the city’s wastewater treatment facility earlier this fall were “experiencing a pretty dire situation there — where the stench from the overabundance of sludge is really kind of choking out the south end of our island.”

Herron said there clearly have been unique challenges over the past several months at the wastewater treatment plant, responding that, “we’re doing everything we can to address that issue as quickly as possible.”

During the most recent regular city council meeting, Ketchum too requested an update regarding the city wastewater systems and the “smell emanating in that area” of town.

“We have had some issues at the wastewater treatment plant this summer regarding sludge and the pressing and ultimate disposal of sludge,” Herron said.

The city manager explained that the “pressing” of sludge basically separates the solids — which go to the landfill — and the liquids — which are put back into the wastewater treatment plant.

“We have private contractors on site, and have been for the past several weeks pressing and helping us dispose of sludge,” Herron said. “There are several million gallons that are going to be disposed of.”

Problems at the city’s wastewater treatment plant began back in late spring, and the issues became even more complicated over the summer during periods where there was little or no rain flowing into the combined sewer systems, officials indicated.

“We had two centrifuges go down in May,” Herron said. “We did have private contractors come in and install a centrifuge. We’ve since repaired that centrifuge, and the second one has been reinstalled to catch up with that. We are hauling sludge out as quickly as we can on a daily basis.”

According to the city manager, the dilemma has been the result of a combination of contributing factors, in addition to the equipment malfunction. In more ways than one, it has become a pressing issue, city officials acknowledged.

“We’ve had an inordinate amount of solids come into the treatment plant from the system this summer,” Herron said. “We think some of that may be partly due to the cleaning of the sewers that we’ve been doing — that council has approved — and that’s about a $1.5 million project.”

In light of the situation, the dry weather this summer caused a stinky situation not only at the wastewater treatment plant, but in other areas of the city, as well, officials noted.

Herron said areas around manholes and combined sewer catch basins in the city sometimes let passersby “catch a stench” because of low water flows during periods when there has been a lack of rain this year.

“We are going to continue with the private contractors assisting our staff until there’s no sludge left,” Herron said, noting that assistance from the contractors — along with periods of rain — have helped them in the continued quest to resolve the problem. “And I would anticipate that to take another four to five weeks, and we anticipate getting back to normal.”

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