Saturday, December 18, 2010

Owego To Sell Treated Wastewater for Drilling

This coming Monday, December 20, the Village of Owego Board of Trustees will consider an offer from Inflection Energy LLC to purchase effluent from the municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) for use in gas drilling operations. Yup, you heard right - someone wants to buy the stuff that comes out of the sewage plant, mix it with fracking chemicals and inject it into Marcellus wells for fracturing the shale.

Right now the Village discharges the effluent (treated wastewater) into the Susquehanna River. If Inflection has its way, the Village could turn sewage into gold – or at least cold hard cash. Close to $3.65 million a year, according to the presentations on the Village website.

The deal, mayor Ed Arrington explained a couple weeks ago, is that Inflection would purchase up to 200,000 gallons of effluent for 5 cents a gallon. There’s a minor glitch – if the treatment plant hopes to sell the effluent, they need to install an ultraviolet disinfection unit. And that will cost about $400,000.

Not to worry, says Inflection. The corporation will front the costs and recoup their investment by paying only two-and-a-half cents a gallon for water they use until the loan is paid off. Which, says the mayor, could be as few as eighty days, if they are using the water at their maximum capacity. Or longer, if they only use a fraction of the water.

Selling WWTP effluent is not an idea unique to the Village elders. Three years ago Prescott Arizona auctioned off their effluent at $24,650/acre foot - that's 7.5 cents/gallon. If Owego charged that much they could potentially haul in a couple million over the price Inflection has offered. And, says Bret Jennings, Director for the Hallstead Great Bend Joint Sewer Authority, some municipalities in PA are charging even more.

Of course, there are some potential problems with the sale, increased truck traffic being a prime concern. It was just a year ago that Mayor Ed Arrington objected to Patriot Water due to the truck traffic it would bring through the village.

Another concern – and one that has little to do with environmental issues – is the fact that residents have not been allowed to read the proposed agreement between Inflection and the Village. When this reporter requested a copy to peruse, village deputy clerk Teresa Sedlacek said, “It’s not available to the public.”

Why not? Well, Sedlacek explained, “the village attorney says it is a negotiation, not a contract.” Village attorney Irene Graven has not responded to a telephone request for clarification.

“The agreement should be a public document,” says environmental attorney Helen Slottje. She feels that the Owego officials are illegally denying citizens access to a document that even the Council of Mayors deems a public document.

Not only that, the public won’t be allowed any time to comment on the proposed deal before the Village Board addresses the issue – privilege of the floor is second on the agenda.

The Board meets Monday, Dec 20 at 7 pm in Hubbard Auditorium at 56 Main Street, Owego following a brief public hearing on some local laws.

You may read the presentation on selling wastewater on the Village website

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