by Geoff Fox
The Town of Hancock has officially entered into phase one of the wastewater project that has been years in the making. Work has been ongoing at the wastewater pump stations around town for several weeks.
The pump stations behind Subway have already been fenced in and completed. Work at the pump station at NAP A is still ongoing and should be done in a couple weeks, and the pump station across from AC&T is fenced in and next to be worked on.
The town has been working with the Maryland Department of the Environment since 2015 under a consent order, meaning the town would have three to five years to correct problems found in 2013 regarding their wastewater system.
Right now, the town is using a lagoon system for the wastewater. The state of Maryland no longer allows those kinds of systems, Town Manager Mike Faith said.
“The state’ s been very patient with us,” he said. “They’re working with us, allowing us to use the lagoon as long as we are on the path to get a new wastewater facility.”
Faith said the project is expensive at $20 million to $30 million, but there are grants available.
Funding for the project has come from a few different places, Faith said.
The pump station rehabilitation project funding is coming through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
The wastewater facility project is funded through the MDE up to 75%, but Faith said the percentage wasn’t an exact number.
The town will be on the hook for some of the money, he added.
“We’ve got a plan to get it paid for,” Faith said.
The first phase of the project is upgrading four collection stations – behind Subway, beside NAP A, across from AC&T, and one on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Gravity sends the sewage to the stations where it is pumped to the lagoons off Hess Road.
“These pumping stations are really important,” Faith said.
Sewage erodes and deteriorates everything like metal and concrete, and the town’s pump stations haven’t been rehabbed for a “long time,” Faith said.
What crews are doing is upgrading the system as well as rehabbing, repairing, and replacing worn out components. Faith wasn’t sure if they were working on or replacing pumps.
Faith said the town has already noticed the pumps are using less electricity than they had been, indicating the pumps are working more efficiently.
“Obviously, it’s quite a big project,” he said.
Pump station upgrades are expected to cost about $700,000 total.
The second phase would be the construction and completion of the new wastewater facility, which will be located on Sensel Hill by the old landfill.
This is above the current location at the bottom of the hill by Tonoloway Creek.
Faith said the site has already been approved and measured out for the future construction.
“There’ s plenty of space up there for it,” he said.
Once the new facility is built and operational, what becomes of the current lagoon system?
“That’s a good question,” Faith said.
Faith said once the new facility is open, the lagoon system can no longer be used.
Faith said he wasn’ t sure if the town would have to back fill the lagoons or drain them, but he’d have to check to make sure.
“We’ll probably just leave it alone,” he said. “I’d imagine that’ s what the state would probably prefer.”
If the lagoons are drained, the question would then become what would happen to the water or what would happen to the refuse if it they are dredged.
There’s also the option of letting nature take its course with the lagoons.
Once the new facility is online, Faith said there would be no more waste sent to the lagoon.
Throughout the entire project, there won’t be any disruption in service.
“The pumping stations have to run because we can’t tell people not to use their bathroom,” Faith said.
Faith said town officials are not planning any rate increases for water or wastewater services.
“We’ve looked at the projections. We figure we can absorb the cost of the project without having to pass any cost on to the user,” Faith said.
He added there’s no a petite by the mayor and council to raise taxes or rates at this time.
All the pump stations have fencing around them for obvious reasons, Faith said.
The fencing already installed around the pumps behind Subway and by AC&T is a fake stone fence by Long Fence.
“We got something a little more decorative so it looks nicer,” he said.
If you’ve driven by or been in the area of the pumping station beside the NAP A store in the past, you might have gotten a whiff of sewage lofting in the air.
Faith said with the new pump stations, there is green box installed on the pump stations that is for odor control.
Faith and The Hancock News were out by the pump station by NAPA and you couldn’t smell any sewage.
“This was always a problem down here with odor and this should be a lot better after they’re finished,” he said.
The pump station project by NAPA still has a few weeks left with Faith saying the crew isn’ t close to being done there.
Once finished, the crew will head to the pump station across from AC&T.
RK&K was the engineering firm on the project with contractors Feri Brothers doing the work.
Faith said RK&K hired former Hancock Public Works Supervisor Mike Bivens as the inspector to make sure crews working on the pump stations are doing everything correctly.
Town crews also come down to check on how the workers are doing and if they need anything.
Faith said the pumping station projects could be done within the next four to six weeks. The new wastewater facility could take two to three years.
“We’d like to start breaking ground on that facility next spring, next summer,” Faith said.
Faith said once the wastewater facility is complete, the third phase would be the replacement of the water and sewer lines in town.
Once all is said and done, the entire cost from the pump stations to the replacement of water and sewer lines will run $50 million to $60 million.
The goal, Faith said, would be to get funding from federal and state government and agencies.
“There’s no way the taxpayers of Hancock can bear the brunt of that,” Faith said.