Chris Cox has been in the news a lot recently.
He has earned his fame: He works as chief operator of Montpelier’s Water Resource Recovery Facility, he’s a member of GMWEA’s board of directors, he won the Bob Wood Young Professionals Award for 2015, he’s been featured in newspaper articles and industry magazines, and he inaugurated Vermont’s highly-popular Poo & Brew event in 2016.
Add to all that, he’s chief of a plant that – if Montpelier voters approve a bond to fund it next spring – will receive a $13.5 million upgrade. Chris helped initiate the project and has been closely involved with its development, which will make an already green facility even greener. (Montpelier’s WRRF won the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in 2015.)
The $13.5 million upgrade has two main components. Five million dollars will go to replacing or refurbishing equipment that is approaching the end of its duty life – tanks, motors, and primary and secondary clarifiers. (Above, Chris inspects some of this aging infrastructure.) The more exciting part is the $8.5 million to be spent to increase the plant’s anaerobic digestion and methane production/processing capacity.
With increased anaerobic digestion capacity, the plant hopes to take in new waste streams and increase its revenue from tipping fees. New feedstocks in the form of dairy industry by-products, brewery and distillery waste, FOGs from restaurants and food products production, and, surprisingly, de-icing agents from airports will supplement typical waste materials. The substantial increase in biogas output can be put to innumerable uses.
Chris is hard to ruffle. He is entirely upbeat about the project: “I’m excited about it. I’ve never been through a major upgrade like this, and I’m looking forward to it.”
How about his staff – are they concerned? “I am very lucky to have a skilled and motivated staff who are excited and ready to learn,” Chris says. He believes the staff’s attitude and abilities will play a big part in the project’s success.
Won’t construction create disruptions at the plant, or result in service interruptions? No. Chris believes the existing redundancy in all systems will accommodate temporary partial downtimes, with the main impact being some reduction in haulage the plant takes in during construction.
But won’t the new technology require extensive training for staff? Again, Chris isn’t worried. He says the primary contractor, Energy Systems Group, will conduct trainings on site, and his excellent staff is ready to take on the challenge. He himself has done extensive homework on the concepts and technology including reading, vetting technical materials, working with visiting engineers, and consulting other operators in New England who are using similar technologies.
Surprisingly, the additional processes will not require hiring new staff. Chris says that the new systems are highly automated and can run without human assistance.
Chris has a lot of praise for the Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee (MEAC) — contact email: email@example.com) — whose enthusiasm and support has accelerated development of the project. MEAC is working toward the goal of making Montpelier a net-zero energy consumer by 2030, and, dependent on feedstock availability, the WRRF could actually contribute to, not draw upon, the city’s energy supply.
One of the best things to emerge from Chris’s fame is the accurate description, in a recent article by Carla Occaso in the Montpelier Bridge newspaper, of his role. While the public too often thinks of wastewater plants only in terms of the occasional CSOs, she describes Chris as “an eco-warrior . . . who speaks of making it his mission to keep pollution out of the watershed.”
Occaso ends her article by quoting Chris on the 24/7/365 job of wastewater management: “This is the ‘boots on the ground’ of saving the environment.”
Here’s hoping Montpelier voters understand the benefit of the project and vote to support it. And congratulations to Chris and to Montpelier for their vision and determination.
GMWEA invites you to share your own experiences with renovation, construction, biodigestion, or other aspects of wastewater plant operation.
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