BARRE — Hoping to quell the smell that has sporadically wafted from a wastewater treatment plant that is in the midst of a $900,000 upgrade, city officials are implementing a stop-gap solution they say should end the intermittent odors by week’s end.
The low-tech fix involves a propane-fueled pilot light that will burn continuously — igniting methane that is emitted from the facility until a failed flare is replaced later this year.
The 27-year-old flare hasn’t functioned the way it was designed to for at least four years, contributing to complaints about odors in the vicinity of the wastewater treatment plant. When there is excess methane to burn the automated flare is supposed to supply the spark that ignites it. Instead, it has been lit manually since at least 2016.
The problem is one of three that are in the process of being fixed with proceeds from a $900,000 bond voters approved two years ago.
None of them are complete, though one is days away from being finished and should significantly reduce methane emissions and, when weather is cold, the need for a functional flare.
A new methane-fueled boiler was installed during the summer, replacing the one that was installed in 1993. The boiler, which will consume most of the methane generated by the wastewater treatment facility, hasn’t yet been fired and won’t be until after an undersized pipe is replaced next week.
The pipe is under warranty and the work is scheduled to be completed on Monday.
By then the temporary pilot light should be in place to make sure any excess methane is burned off, in an effort to address the odor issue. Propane tanks have been relocated, and the pilot light will be installed by the end of the week.
The pilot light will constantly burn propane and ensure methane is ignited as well during periods of excess emissions.
Once state officials sign off on plans for a replacement flare, that work will be put out to bid. The new flare is expected to be installed later this year.
The most expensive component of the project won’t be completed until next year when the structurally compromised cover of one of the plant’s two primary digesters is replaced. The digester was taken out of service when a leak was detected and structural problems identified in 2017. That digester — one of three — has been idle and the plant has been operating at 70% capacity ever since.
Public Works Director Bill Ahearn said finally firing the boiler and the interim fix for the flare should greatly reduce odors that have sporadically sparked complaints from those who live in the valley area surrounding the treatment plant.