Public-Private Possibilities

Jan. 9, 2017
Veolia North America & Poughkeepsie, N.Y., maintain a 35-year partnership

About the author: Tim Shea, P.E., is vice president, operations, for Veolia North America. Shea can be reached at [email protected].

Since 1980, the city of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has partnered with Veolia North America to manage its wastewater system and facilities. Over that time, the Poughkeepsie wastewater treatment facility has met 99% of its discharge criteria, specifically through the community’s commitment to safety and a program centered on preventive and corrective maintenance. It is a case study for a successful public-private partnership, the company’s longest-running partnership in New York state, and one of the oldest public-private partnerships in North America.

“The Queen City of the Hudson” traces its roots to the late 1600s and is located between New York City and Albany, on the western edge of Dutchess County, bordered by the Hudson River. Due to its inland location, the city typically is cold during the winter with relatively hot temperatures during the summer months. In addition to its rich colonial history, the city also is home to an array of schools, commercial and manufacturing firms, and urban housing developments.

Long-Term Partnership

Over the past 35 years, the city’s collaboration with Veolia has yielded a track record of compliance and safety, while generating millions in savings for the community. While the progress has been productive over the years, it is nevertheless important to recall the state of affairs prior to 1980.

In the 1970s, the wastewater facility experienced maintenance and process control challenges that produced severe odor issues. Fines were levied and any new sewer hookups were banned.

The situation was unpleasant for residents, but the city of Poughkeepsie stepped up to the challenge. Knowing it had a growing problem with one of its fundamental services, city leaders turned to Veolia.

The city charged the company with operating, maintaining and managing Poughkeepsie’s 10-million-gal-per-day activated sludge wastewater treatment plant and five pump stations.

Working with the city, Veolia helped bring the wastewater facility into full compliance, while addressing its maintenance and stability needs. Since entering this partnership, Poughkeepsie has garnered regional safety awards from the New York State Water Pollution Control Assn., met strict environmental requirements and achieved significant odor contorl improvements.

This success was achieved through the design and implementation of a new asset for the city—an upgraded biosolids processing system, which redirected air dispersed from sewage tanks as a means of protecting the community from bad odors and pollutants. As a result, odor complaints have been reduced by 85%.

Moreover, a replacement for unreliable corner sweep springs in the clarifiers was developed, working with a company that manufactures extreme-sport bungee cords to replace the springs provided by the original equipment manufacturer. The engineered bungee cords last more than a year (as opposed to several months for the springs), leading to a substantial reduction in repair and maintenance costs. This also reduced the number of odor complaints from residents, as solids no longer were collecting in the corners of clarifiers.

Additionally, the partnership with the community has been instrumental in reducing the city’s odor control issues on several fronts. For instance, Marist College is located directly near the city’s wastewater facility. By opening up a dialogue, school leaders coordinated with municipal and water officials, sharing the school’s event schedule and ensuring any potential conflicts—or issues with odor—were identified and handled.

Finances & the Future

Because of its success, Poughkeepsie renewed an agreement with Veolia to operate its wastewater system. Under this 10-year public-private partnership, the company will continue to oversee the city’s wastewater treatment plant, pump stations, biosolids management, sludge disposal and storm water management systems, among other things. Capital support also will be provided to upgrade the city’s wastewater treatment plant and pump stations to improve efficiencies and yield additional savings.

Additionally, the city is poised to save money by streamlining operational efficiencies and introducing new technology and programs to generate revenue.

Operating expenses for the city have been reduced annually by $170,000. The city’s new septage receiving program has resulted in savings of approximately $800,000 annually and $6.6 million over the past 10 years—a key factor in offsetting water and sewer rate increases for residents. Long-term operating costs for the city will be lowered through a $600,000 capital investment. By improving the sludge dewatering and odor control systems, the hauling costs for sludge disposal will be reduced by roughly 40% to 50%.

Community engagement and customer service are key to making this relationship work. The wastewater operations are now staffed seven days per week, 365 days per year. Veolia works with the city to sponsor educational site tours for local high schools and colleges, and donate to important local causes and organizations, such as the Fallkill Creek cleanup initiative, an annual Earth Day clean up that has collected more than 1,000 lb of garbage, and the renovation of the historic Hoffman House.

The city of Poughkeepsie and Veolia have developed a valuable model for other communities to emulate. Over the years, the community has mitigated rate increases through innovative technical programs for waste, water, cleaning, energy and regeneration. Poughkeepsie’s work over the past several decades illustrates the ability of public-private partnerships to deliver cost-effective and environmentally compliant services, providing long-term benefits from both an ecological and economic standpoint. 

About the Author

Tim Shea

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