Almost one year after the City of Bellingham suspended a $1 billion anaerobic digestion project at the Post Point Wastewater Treatment Plant, construction and updates are in the works at the aging facility with a lower price tag of $541 million.
The facility — constructed in 1974 — handles all of Bellingham’s solid wastewater and is in dire need of upgrades and reconstruction, as several pieces of operating technology are “running to failure,” the city’s assistant director of public works Michael Olinger told members of the Bellingham City Council Monday, Aug. 7.
Several projects are underway at the plant to help repair the facility, including replacements of one of the sludge tanks, the incinerator emission control system, the continuous emissions monitoring system and the incinerator feed pump. Many of the pieces of tech, including the incinerator feed pump, are “long past their expected life,” Olinger said.
“We buy parts off of eBay,” Olinger said, referring to the incinerator programmable logic controller. “We find parts wherever we can to keep the system running.”
Olinger and Bellingham Public Works Director Eric Johnston estimated the new upgrade costs around $541 million — just half of the $1.03 billion anaerobic digestion project the city was pursuing until September 2022. Already, Olinger reported, there’s about $25 million tied up in design and upgrade projects at the facility.
Repairs at the city extend beyond the necessary tech upgrades, and include plant-wide roof replacement and cleanup of a contaminated site.
The McKenzie Site — the current location of Unity Village, a tiny home community that provides temporary housing for about 25 homeless individuals in Bellingham — will require significant mitigation, Olinger said.
City staff estimate about 12,000 tons of impacted soil — as well as contaminated groundwater — on the property will need to be removed. As a result, Unity Village will be required to relocate from the Post Point area early next year, which will allow the city to begin cleanup in mid-2024.
About 12 buildings on site require a new roof, too, and Johnston said staff are exploring plans to install solar panels and other clean energy technology.
“I’m really pleased to see that the roof replacement includes looking for opportunities for solar,” council member Michael Lilliquist said during the Monday meeting. “This would be a wonderful opportunity for community solar projects.”
In addition to completing major repairs at the existing facility, city employees will conduct research and surveys regarding emerging wastewater management technology, including gasification and pyrolysis, to determine future growth and maintenance on-site.
These projects are vital, Johnston said because planning a new wastewater treatment project can take years.
“We need to start now because it takes several years to find the technology, several years for the public process, and a couple of years to fund the process,” he told council members.
The suspended anaerobic digester project is a perfect example of that timetable; work on the massive project began in 2016, and city staff were still in the planning phases for it when it was suspended in 2022.
In the meantime, the city is soliciting applications from vendors and consultants exploring “emerging technology pilot projects,” Olinger said. The request for proposal was filed Friday, Aug. 4, and will be open to project proposals through at least November, Olinger said.
Staff said those emerging technology pilot projects could be expensive and slow-moving, with proposals already submitted for $10 million, two-year analysis projects. Staff will begin reviewing the proposals in November, and will present additional construction info to Bellingham City Council.
This story was updated to reflect the possibility of future projects at Post Point at 11:38 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9.