Work at water plant proceeding

FAIRMONT – It was chilly Tuesday morning as Fairmont Public Utility Commission toured the water treatment plant under construction on Albion Avenue. But not as cold as when they toured the building in October, when wind and rain rushed in through gaping window sockets and an open roof.

Much has happened at the facility in the past six months, and within another six, the plant should be ready to go. July 2013 is the anticipated completion date.

“A major endeavor is all the cleaning,” said Jason Kosmatka, as he showed commissioners a dusty, spacious cavern that will soon become the “people spaces.” Near the front entrance, on the corner of Albion and Day streets, will be the offices, control room, lab, conference room and lunch room.

In the rest of the plant, the functions of each of the rooms is becoming much easier to identify, for the experts, anyway.

“This is a pretty unique plant that has two sets of filters,” said Kosmatka, taking the tour into a room split down the middle by a walkway, on either side of which are two different filter methods – a modified sand filter system and granulated activated carbon filter.

“It’s because of the water’s taste and odor issues,” Kosmatka said.

The latest technology is frequently utilized in the plant, as well as top-grade materials – for instance, two enormous clarifiers are comprised of stainless steel. Engineers say this should be a cost-saving measure in the long run. According to Kosmatka, another southern Minnesota city is paying about $400,000 to have its clarifiers repainted, which needs to be done about every 15 years.

The city also is expected to save money in the long run by making its own bleach solution at the plant. The solution is so diluted the state requires no hazard safety plan to manage it, in sharp contrast to having gas chlorine trucked into the city.

“This is cheaper and safer,” Kosmatka said.

Efforts were made throughout the design of the plant to recycle and reuse materials and reduce inefficiency, which helped earn the city about $4 million in “green” grants. The lights are motion-activated in most rooms, and under-floor heating is used in the massive garages, where public utility vehicles will drip-dry after coming in from plowing snow.

The old ponds used to store lime sludge on the west side of town will be a thing of the past. Instead, sludge presses will press out any liquid, creating “cakes” that are considered “beneficial material” that can be used as a fertilizer.

The plant also comes with a generator large enough to run the whole facility, which could happen not only if there’s a power outage, but also if there’s a power peak in the summer, when usage and electricity costs shoot up. By going off the grid during those times, the plant will help reduce the city’s electric bill.

This summer, a grand opening will be held to give the public an opportunity to tour the plant.