Union County favors privatizing its wastewater treatment plant operations to solve problems, even though the state said plant operations are working well.
Union County Public Works Director Ed Goscicki said the treatment plant needs to be more reliable. N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Division of Water Quality inspectors found a list of problems during a January visit to the plants. He feels that privatizing operations is the best way to fix those problems.
The 12 county treatment plant employees are upset. They might not be hired on by the company the county chooses to contract with. Even if they did keep their job, they will lose their current health and retirement benefits.
But their biggest complaint is that staff has tried all along to follow state standards and worked hard along side state officials to improve plant operations.
DWQ is not mandating the county transfer of control of operations , DWQ Spokeswoman Susan Massengale said. There was never an investigation into Union County WWTP operations. A 2012 violation was the only operations problem with Union County in almost five years, Massengale said.
“There was an unacceptable result for chlorine back in July, but that was really just a result of staff getting their house back in order,” she said.
But six months ago there was a communication problem between county and state officials that prompted talk of shutting the plants down.
Each year, certified labs must submit samples to be tested for certain substance concentrations.
“As a certified lab, they must run tests periodically to ensure their testing equipment is running properly,” Massengale said.
In 2011, DWQ sent Union County notice that they needed to test for phosphorous. That letter went without a response. John Hahn was plant superintendent at the time. The state expected Hahn to submit the test results or explain why they had not been done. But Hahn went two years without testing for phosphorous.
In 2012, the state received no test results for water conductivity. The state decertified the laboratory at the Crooked Creek WWTP to test for phosphoros and conductivity.The state required them to cease testing for 60 days. But Hahn did not tell his staff, so testing continued.
Early in 2013, DWQ officials traveled to Union County and met with Hahn and Public Works management. At the end of their Jan. 30, 2013, meeting, county and state officials signed an agreement to fix all the problems that inspectors found inside the plant. Water and Wastewater Division Manager Michael Moler agreed to voluntarily suspend testing for six parameters and contract an outside company to perform testing until problems were resolved.