Transforming raw sewage into usable fertilizer is a complex process, monitored every step of the way, and charted using a computerized program that was developed right here in Ladysmith.
And for the most part, it goes on right under peoples’ noses in the public works yard, without anyone being aware of an innovative program that mixes sludge from Ladysmith’s sewage treatment plant, with brown water from catchment basins and a truck wash station, and produces a ‘Class A’ product.
But sometimes the process stinks, and it’s those ‘volatile’ days, when the bacteria that compost the mounds of bio-solids neatly piled just metres away from the Holland Creek trail system, don’t get enough oxygen and go ‘anaerobic’ that have politicians and Ladysmith’s Director of Infrastructure Services John Manson looking for a solution.
At their July 20 meeting council approved an $800,000 plan to upgrade the treatment process and move it partly indoors, where the odors can be contained and filtered, but neighbours and trail-users are sensitized to the issue, and it may be hard to persuade them that a solution – other than an outright move of the operation – can be achieved.
“I still have reservations about the location,” Mayor Aaron Stone said as Council was preparing to approve an agreement that would put $570,000 in federal funding in place to go ahead with a project to “construct a composting facility at the public works yard, including odour control, building and equipment by June 30, 2017.”
“I still have serious pause about putting this facility in the heart of a residential community that borders the Holland Creek trail,” Stone said.
Presently sludge from Ladysmith’s sewage treatment plant, at the foot of Oyster Cove Road, is centrifuged then trucked up to the public works yard, where the next stages of the composting process begin. Immediately after the transfer is the most ‘volatile’ stage of the process, Manson explained during a tour of the operation he invited the Chronicle to take.
At this stage the process is at times proceeding too quickly for the piles to be oxygenated, which leads to the anaerobic composting that causes odours. Enclosing that part of the operation would dramatically reduce instances of bad odour associated with the process.
City Manager Ruth Malli said approval was needed to secure funding to go ahead with the project, but assured council that the question of where the bio-solids composting operation will ultimately be located remains under consideration.
“We will continue to pursue other locations,” she said. “This is the location we have at this time. If we don’t enter into the agreement, then we don’t have funding for anything.”
Manson explained at the council meeting that the municipality won’t be committed to keeping its composting operations at the public works yard, even if it goes ahead with the upgrade. The main element of the project will be a plastic covered metal structure, which can be moved relatively inexpensively if a new location is eventually found.
“Certainly we would not look at any investment that would not be transferable from that site,” he said, echoing Malli’s acknowledgement that staff have been given “clear direction to look for another location.”
Manson is clear on that directive, too, but believes if another site can’t be found, and the operation remains at the public works yard, moving the volatile phase indoors would minimize the odour problem.
Wherever the final location, Ladysmith has no choice but to treat sludge generated at its water treatment plant. “We are obliged to treat those solids,” Malli said, adding that the grant money will allow the town to do a better job of it.
“This is actually a good-news story,” she said. “We approached the CVRD to get this grant and it’s one of the highest priorities of the Town of Ladysmith.”
It’s good news in terms of the final product, too, Manson said.
“Topsoil is really hard to find here on Vancouver Island,” he said. “It’s expensive.”
Ladysmith solves its sewage treatment problem and generates a source of much needed Class A topsoil for municipal operations by composting.
“It’s really a good solution because we know we get a really good product at the end of it,” he said.