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Fishbeck hired to figure out the cause of foul odors from Port Huron sewer plant

A screenshot of James Freed on May 13.

By Jim Bloch

Why does the Port Huron wastewater treatment facility emit foul odors?

The obvious answer is that it processes human waste; what else would you expect?

But at a properly operating sewer plant, the odors should be minimal.

For months, residents have been complaining at city council meetings about nasty smells emanating from the city’s wastewater treatment plant. One person regularly dubs the plant “the poop palace.”

At its regular meeting May 13, the council voted unanimously to hire the engineering firm Fishbeck, Inc. for $187,300 to conduct a study of the offensive odors and recommend a solution.

Fishbeck will assess the problem and do the engineering for what “will be a two to three year project to design and build a new odor control system for the wastewater plant and most likely will require carbon filters,” said City Manager James Freed, as heard on the recording of the meeting posted on YouTube. “As you’ll recall, we put an odor control system in about three years ago, (which was completed) a year and a half ago. That system has clearly failed. We have been able to recoup more than $1.9 million in refunds back to the city for that system that did not operate as designed. We will take those funds and put them towards the design and construction of a new system that will work.”

The bulk of money, $1.8 million, came from Tetra Tech, Inc., which designed the odor control system in 2019. As part of its consent agenda earlier in the meeting, the city council approved a mutual release and settlement agreement with Tetra Tech and Weiss Construction, Inc., which installed the system.

“But in the meantime we have something to help eradicate the funk down there?” asked council member Anita Ashford.

“Yes,” said Freed. “We’ve done remediation efforts with a couple of treatment processes at the plant. Most residents can now tell that the wastewater plant is now significantly better in the downtown… I really applaud the operators at the plant for being innovative in how they addressed this pretty significant problem that we didn’t see coming.”

Part of the problem is the plant’s location.

“Because of the plant’s location near the central business district, the capture and treatment of odorous air from the treatment process is critical to avoid public complaints,” said Fishbeck in its proposal. “An air ionization system followed by granular activated carbon was constructed in 2019 which was intended to address the odorous compounds derived from treatment processes. However, the system has not performed well, which has led the City to reevaluate the complete odor control system.

Fishbeck’s evaluation will focus on two primary components. 

“First, the existing odorous air collection system must be evaluated to ensure that air is being withdrawn at the proper rates and locations, and the system is properly balanced,” said Fishbeck. “Intermittently operated fans and an imbalance between supply and exhaust fan capacity will result in improper air withdrawal and loss of odorous air capture. The second primary component is the odor control technology, which currently is the packed tower chemical scrubber. The sizing, operation, and performance of the system will be evaluated considering modifications that were made to the odor control system under the 2019 improvements.”

Jim Bloch is a freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. Contact him at bloch.jim@gmail.com. 

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