Jul 11, 2014

Technology Trumps Casino Lift Station Problem

Pump system tackles FOG at Oneida Nation resort

Oneida Nation Flygt
Oneida Nation Flygt

The Oneida Nation considered several alternative concepts before the development of a tribal enterprise on 450 acres located 30 miles east of Syracuse, N.Y. The originally favored shopping mall had even advanced into a set of architectural drawings until a pact was reached with state government that scrapped the retail project in favor of building New York’s first Indian-owned gambling casino, recalled Bill Hollenbeck, whose career spans 20 years in facilities management at the venture. The façade of the casino partially suggests the abandoned retail mall, the architectural drawings of which were adapted to the first phase of the gaming hall. It opened humbly enough in 1993 with 130 table games and a coffee shop. 

The modest facility attracted 450,000 visitors the first year. With any doubts dispelled by the success, the Oneida Nation was firmly tied to the gaming industry.

The casino has since led to some $600 million in facilities investment, including a $33-million expansion in 2013. The gaming facilities became the cornerstone of the companion destination golf and entertainment resort collectively known as Turning Stone Resort & Casino. The Oneida complex today consists of more than 1 million sq ft, which Hollenbeck oversees as manager of a facilities department that employs 90 personnel who execute an average of 50 scheduled work orders a day and another 20 urgent incidents per hour. The games of risk at Turning Stone have infused the wealth now underwriting career opportunities for tribal members.

Turning Stone Resort & Casino now employs 4,000 people and has become an economic wellhead and one of the state’s top tourist destinations. The complex attracts more than 4.2 million visitors per year. The operations rank among the most successful of the hundreds of Indian-owned casinos across the nation that range from bingo halls to full-fledged gaming and recreation complexes generating billions of dollars in revenue. 

The casino revenue has far exceeded conservative expectations. The games of chance inject $311 million yearly into the regional economy, according to Ray Halbritter, a Harvard Law School graduate, who has served as CEO of the tribal enterprises since 1990. He prefers to describe Turning Stone Resort & Casino as “a resort destination that has a casino, rather than a casino that became a destination resort.”

The casino’s floor area is as large as two football fields and offers 14 different types of gaming tables, along with a variety of accommodations, and an 800-seat concert venue that hosts some of the same celebrity headliners that play the showrooms of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Now a top-rated luxury getaway, Turning Stone also offers five golf courses, 11 restaurants, three luxury hotels, a European spa, a convention center, a cabaret-style showroom and an events arena. As the lead element of diversified tribal enterprises, it seemed appropriate that Turning Stone celebrated the 20th year of operation in 2013 by completing the multi-venue entertainment expansion. 

When the FOG Set In

The celebrated expansion brought with it an operational problem.

Turning Stone directly owns and maintains the sewage collection system within its boundaries. Ahead of last summer’s expansion, the management had upgraded the main lift station to four pumps sized to theoretically handle 600 gal-per-minute peak flows. 

 A byproduct of the success of the new restaurants and clubs, however, brought a flow of fats, oil and grease (FOG) that gelled into a somewhat firm floating blanket atop the main station’s wet well, where the sewage flows converge from the network of smaller stations throughout the property boundaries. From there, the main pump station moves the wastewater to a collection line built by the town of Verona and ultimately discharges to the municipal wastewater treatment plant operated by the city of Oneida. 

“The blanket of FOG would congeal and build up until the floats were prevented from activating the pumps at our main lift station,” Hollenbeck said. “The risk of a blockage or sewer overflows that could shut down restrooms off the gaming floor or cause a stench were obviously intolerable at a 24/7 operation.” He adopted daily inspections of the wet wells and had the main pump station cleaned out twice a week by an outsourced contractor with a vacuum truck. Hollenbeck recognized, however, that the measure was only an interim—and costly—solution.

“We projected that could run up to $50,000 a year,” he said. “We started looking for a better, long-term solution.”

Hollenbeck met with an engineering team with the Flygt pump regional office of Xylem Inc. Although the pumps installed at the main station were by another manufacturer, Hollenbeck had experienced reliable performance from a wide range of Flygt pumps in lift stations elsewhere in the resort’s collection system. The representatives recommended upgrading the main lift with a series of Flygt technologies that included the Flygt N Impeller, a Mix-Flush valve and control enhancements. The existing float-actuated controls were left in place as redundant backups. The retrofit to the main station eliminated the FOG problem and previous expense incurred for the twice weekly cleanouts. 

Applying Technology

Flygt developed the advanced impeller as a response to the growing challenges of today’s higher-debris wastewater flows. The N Impeller handles solids more efficiently than a chopper pump and, when installed with a pump’s high-efficiency motor, can shave energy consumption by almost 50%. The engineering feature that drives the efficiency is the self-cleaning, semi-open, back-swept impeller with a horizontally positioned vane that delivers hydraulic efficiency. The design eases the passage of solids, while self-cleaning the edges of the unit’s impeller with each revolution. By eliminating problems like ragging buildups, the advanced impeller further benefits from the Mix-Flush valve, which prevents FOG buildups by agitating the FOG into a continuously liquefied state. 

As an additional preventive step, Hollenbeck intends to fully replace the adapted pumps with Flygt high-performance submersible pumps in order to standardize his equipment and parts inventory. The additional change-outs will enhance the full benefits of the AquaView SCADA system he intends to add as an interface with his power management system. 

Hollenbeck and the casino management staff have gained peace of mind and reliability from the recent modifications to the lift station. 

“The modifications recommended by Flygt have met and even exceeded our expectations,” Hollenbeck said. “When you have a facilities management operation this large, you learn quickly to adopt measures that prevent problems before they occur.” 

A Wellhead for Tribal Programs

The flow of gambling revenue is washing away a legacy of poverty for generations of tribal members. The Oneida have bought back 16,000 acres of ancestral land and also developed a chain of gas stations and other businesses, started a police force, and provided other community services. They have built a cultural center, an elders center and sent young Oneida to college to maximize their future opportunities. Where a 32-acre lot of ramshackle trailers once stood, the Oneida have built modern housing and a health clinic for their members. 

Besides the chain of convenience stores, Oneida enterprises now include a Hollywood film production company, a national Indian newspaper, a T-shirt printing plant and a factory that manufactures the cashless electronic gaming machines that fill Turning Stone coffers. 

About the author

Steven London is president of Steven London Associates. London can be reached at [email protected].