MERRIMACK — After 50 years in operation, the town’s wastewater treatment plant needs a critical makeover, according to its managers.

Corroded pipes and valves, rusty and obsolete equipment and other issues require significant improvements at the Merrimack Wastewater Treatment Facility on Mast Road, managers say. While workers have managed to keep the sewer plant operating without any major problems, Sarita Croce, assistant director of the Public Works Department, said more must be done to increase energy efficiency, improve employee safety and address handicap accessibility.

Spare parts for aging equipment are no longer available, and duct tape and paper clips only go so far, according to Croce.

“So much of this is out of compliance with electrical code,” Leo Gaudette, chief operator of the wastewater division, said while providing a tour of the facility. “It is in desperate need of an upgrade.”

With some work having already been completed, the Public Works Department is proposing a third phase of upgrades to the treatment plant at a cost of $13.1 million. Work would include designing the project, updating the main pump station and two external pump stations, and constructing a new screenings building. These improvements are expected to save about $13,000 a year in energy costs, said Croce.

A fourth phase would include $9.5 million of work such as: updating the chlorination building and headworks building to meet current codes; upgrading generators, the sludge storage tanks and the compost facility ventilation system; and replacing the storage facility, clarifier mechanisms and outdated equipment.

Other improvements being proposed include a new algae removal system, a new emergency power system, an expanded laboratory space, implementing structural modifications to address safety concerns, and replacing ductwork and exhaust fans, Croce said.

“A planned upgrade is a much wiser approach than emergency repairs,” Croce said, who is hoping the work can begin in 2020.

Next week, voters will be asked to approve the first $13.1 million bond, followed by the second bond request of $9.5 million in April 2020. A two-thirds majority vote is needed to move forward with the bonds, which are funded by the users of the sewer system, not local property taxes.

Without the upgrades, the department could potentially be in violation of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit if problems do arise and funding is not available to make improvements, said Gaudette.

Lee Vogel, maintenance manager, stressed the importance of replacing the plant’s existing generators, which are 50 years old and used substantially. Their engines are so old that some parts are currently not available, he said.

The department is proposing sewer rate increases throughout the next eight years, if the bonds are approved.

Currently, users are paying an average of $242 a year in sewer costs.

Once the eight years of rate increases are complete, those users will be paying $357 a year. However, local sewer officials stressed that once the increases have been implemented, Merrimack will be the 12th lowest out of 85 New Hampshire communities for its sewer rates, adding the average sewer cost in New Hampshire is $590 a year.

Voting day is April 9; polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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