POTTSTOWN >> The Pottstown Borough Authority has voted unanimously to move forward with a $3.7 million project to replace the maintenance-plagued dryer at the sewer treatment plant and replace it with a new type of dryer.
The new system, a pressure differential dryer, has fewer moving parts and so is easier to maintain, is more energy efficient and will allow the plant to process 20 percent more sludge than it currently does, Authority Engineer Tom Weld told the board members before the vote.
The annual operational savings of nearly $700,000 over the current system means it will pay for itself within six years, he said.
“The thing practically pays for itself, it’s really a no-brainer,” Utilities Administrator Robert Plenderleith said as the Tuesday presentation wrapped up.
The current dryer system, manufactured by Komline Sanderson, was purchased in 2007 for $6.7 million and was one of only three options on the market at the time, said Weld.
Since it was installed it has allowed the plant to produce a high-quality end product that can be used by farmers as fertilizer, or as fill. Most importantly, it does not have to buried in a landfill, a proposition that cost millions.
But the plant has been plagued with maintenance problems, forcing it to be shut down for days, meaning the plant’s end-product had to be landfilled during the colder months when the dryer was off-line.
Since 2008, maintenance costs have added up to more than $2.5 million, in addition to another $5 million in hauling costs and the addition natural gas costs of $1.7 million, said Weld.
According to the average over the last three years, keeping the current dryer would mean an additional $270,000 a year in maintenance costs, compared to Gryphon’s estimated $70,000 a year.
With maintenance estimates adding up to another $4.2 million by 2020 for the current system, Weld said it was time to explore other options.
The borough team looked at five other types of sludge dryers and settled on the one manufactured by Gryphon for the reasons stated above.
Overall, the Gryphon system is estimated to save the authority about $670,000 a year, said Weld. The authority also approved a motion to begin seeking the necessary state permits as well as a tentative timeline which has the system coming on-line in October of 2018.
That does not include the increased marketability of the end product which, unlike the dust currently produced, comes in pellet form, which farmers prefer because it is easier to distribute and cuts down on odors. As an added bonus, the new system is also expected to cut down on odor complaints at the sewer plant, said Utilities Manager Brent Wagner.
In addition to taking out the old dryer, the current building must be expanded to accommodate the Gryphon system and the work timed so that when the current dryer is off-line and being disassembled, the class B product the plant produces without the dryer can be land-applied as fertilizer, which is much cheaper than sending it to a landfill.
The longer timeline also allows the three townships which also send their sewage to the plant — Lower Pottsgrove, Upper Pottsgrove and West Pottsgrove — time to plan to pay their share.
According to a spreadsheet put together by the authority staff, Pottstown ratepayers will pay 59.67 percent of the total cost or $2.2 million.
Lower Pottsgrove, the next largest user, would pay 26.28 percent or $975,000. West Pottsgrove would cover 10.26 percent of the cost or about $380,000 and Upper Pottsgrove just 3.8 percent, or about $140,000.