AYER -- Mark Wetzel became the new Ayer DPW superintendent in late April. A professional engineer, Wetzel brings 30 years consulting experience on public water and waste water systems.
"My experience is to evaluate the facilities, the infrastructure, and then prioritize the required improvements in a cost-effective manner," said Wetzel told the Ayer Finance Committee on July 25. Once on the ground in Ayer, Wetzel discovered "quite a few projects underway but in various phases of completion. I'm trying to move some of those along. Some are taking a little longer than others. On some, I'm re-evaluating the design criteria."
The May 2011 Annual Town Meeting established a Storm Water Enterprise Fund which has since been seeded with $85,000 previously interspersed in DPW highway, water and sewer cost centers.
Prior DPW Superintendent Dan Nason selected consultant VHB to help study needed upgrades for the stormwater system and how to fund the enterprise fund. An effort to create a stormwater fee to grow the account to cover stormwater system upgrades and maintenance failed to take root.
In the meantime, VHB is helping with GIS mapping of the stormwater infrastructure. "It's going to be a lot better than what we have." The company is also calculating an estimate on the impervious surface ratio for town properties in the continuing analysis of how to fund the account. A report will be provided to the selectmen and public hearings would precede a potential
Meanwhile, each DPW department is going to prepare its own asset analysis.
"Piece by piece" improvements are afoot at the Spectacle Pond water treatment facility. Instead of just replacing pumps, Wetzel said a more comprehensive review will be conducted into the safety, security, physical condition and energy use at the pump house.
"It treats the water great," assured Wetzel. But "the facility is 30 years old. It's showing its age." Wetzel said he also hopes to bring the wastewater treatment plan to "optimal efficiency" with a review of the sewer works, including a study of stormwater infiltration into the system.
The Groton School Road pump station upgrade is at the 95-percent design phase and will go to bid soon. The West Main Street pumping station has lingering land issues. Wetzel suggested a holistic look at all the pumping stations before rushing to automatically upgrading.
As far as Ayer's standing deal with MassDevelopment to send Ayer wastewater to Devens, "I haven't gotten under the hood of this in detail," said Wetzel. While towns are required to have a plan for sewerage needs when approaching 80 percent capacity, Ayer isn't faced with that problem. Wetzel said the cost is $250,000 a year.
"I want to see if we can get out of that," said Wetzel.
Ayer Finance Committee member Brian Muldoon added, "We've been talking about that for five years."
VHB is studying and prioritizing roadway needs. Muldoon asked how that final list would ever get funded. Wetzel said he was working with VHB to help guage "what we can afford and what we can't afford." The acceptance of private ways ready to come under the town's care and custody will also help increase the town's Chapter 90 state roadway reimbursement sum, which is based on a per public mile basis.
The Transportation Improvement Program grant for Fitchburg Road was approved but work is still involved before that project starts. East Main Street has a pressing set of its own curbing and accessibility issues. For Wetzel, that's also a major road in need "but it's also a big job."
Wetzel said he's been tweaking a draft 37-page water shut off policy, saying there is "too much stuff in there" but not enough clarity on how water gets shut off for non-payment. Wetzel provided the committee with a thumbnail sketch of his proposed approach.
Debtors would be given 30 days notice to pay. If no payment is received in 30 days, then another late payment notification letter would be sent. Forty five days later, a final notification would be sent affirming the date and time of water service termination. Wetzel said the draft regulation was headed to the selectmen for consideration.
Wetzel said selectmen Gary Luca and Christopher Hillman are "sort of running with" the study of whether or not the town should offer curbside trash pick up instead of, or in limited conjunction with, the town transfer station. "They're talking and getting quotes. When they get that then I'll do my due diligence on that."
Wetzel said he'd hoped curbside pick up would not hurt recycling efforts. Finance Committee Chairman Scott Houde suggested there could also be a negative effect on scrap metal and used oil recycling which is now available to transfer station visitors. In any event, yard waste would still need to be collected at the transfer station, agreed Wetzel.
Gone is the prior push to build a new garage for heavy equipment at the transfer station. Instead, Wetzel said he's found money in the budget to purchase a small office trailer for transfer station employees to eat lunch and take breaks. The trailer will be placed to the right of the transfer station entrance.
Sludge and food scraps could be put to better use. Wetzel said he was working with the Green Community Committee about potential grants available to harness the energy potential to fuel the town.
"I said wow, we take all our sludge right now and we truck it to Fitchburg," said Wetzel. "There's a huge cost related to that. We ought to look into installing a sludge digester and generate some electricity off of that." Wetzel said a feasibility study is needed before funding could be sought.
"Basically we're shipping 3 percent solid sludge to Fitchburg so it's basically water. A fair amount of it," said Wetzel. "So there's a big tanker truck that's driving back and forth to Fitchburg. Fitchburg's not going to take the sludge after October so we're looking at our alternatives."
One option is sending it to Devens. "But it's only going to get more expensive," said Wetzel.
Ayer Fire Chief Pedrazzzi has been working to figure out "what we want where" on new street signs, as approved by Town Meeting.
A billing software upgrade is going slowly. Also quarterly water bills may be in the future after radio water meter reading technology is put in play. That will speed up the meter reading process from a couple of weeks to "four or five hours," said Wetzel.
Wetzel questioned why there was $2 million worth of upgrades afoot for the Grove Pond Water Treatment plant, as approved by Town Meeting. Wetzel said "that's right up my alley" having designed 12 to 15 of those systems previously. "I looked at the design and I said 'Why are we doing this?"
Adding four filters to the existing six wouldn't bring the town "that much more" water, Wetzel said. In looking at the flow and loading rates, Wetzel said he "couldn't see any reason why we were doing that."
Other parts of the project are still needed, but as far as adding the four filters, Wetzel said "I'm going to cross that off. We're not going to do that." That project goes to bid in the fall.
"Alot of stuff going on," said Muldoon.
"You haven't seen half of my list," laughed Wetzel.
Wetzel said he'll meet with the Capital Planning Committee before budget building begins in earnest for fiscal 2014 for a "quick and dirty" look at the neediest projects. But, long term, Wetzel said he must still list out all the department's needs -- division by division -- to prioritize large projects and see how rates and fees much change to "balance that out" in the long haul.
Regarding the lingering $900,000 state-funded Pond Street reconstruction project, Wetzel empathized with the contractors insomuch as it's harder working around existing utilities than it is to install a new roadway. Nonetheless, Wetzel said, "I apologize to the listening audience and the residents over there because if I lived on that street I would be really upset."