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Right on time, wastewater treatment plant up and running

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By Katy Korkos

“On time and under budget” was the phrase of the day, echoed by county councilors Michael Wheeler and Jim Hall, county administrator Max Baker, and many others who attended Thursday’s ceremony in Pueblo Canyon.County councilors, county administrators, Department of Public Utilities officials, utilities board members, Water Trust Board members, State Representative Jeannette Wallace (R-Los Alamos) and New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Secretary Ron Curry attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday for the county’s new wastewater treatment plant.Utilities manager Robert “Buck” Monday welcomed the dignitaries, and thanked everyone involved for their support of the project, which was many years in the making.Utilities board chair Chris Ortega, who was the manager of the utilities department at the time the project was first planned, told the assembled dignitaries of the history of the plant.“We started planning this in the late ’90s. I’m really glad to see it done.”Ortega said that the biggest goal of the department was “to discharge as clean a water as possible, for the golf course and schools.”He said that when the project was first planned the construction bids came in “quite a bit higher,” and commended the utilities staff under the direction of Monday for bringing the project in with $3 million in savings over original estimates.County Council Vice Chair Michael Wheeler particularly thanked the NMED and Representative Wallace for their support.“Without the help of the state, we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this,” Wheeler said.“I have about a 600-square-mile district, and it’s mostly septic systems, so I don’t have very many of these in my district,” Wallace said. “I’m just very pleased to see it’s here.”The new plant replaces an inadequate facility in Bayo Canyon, which was a source of constant problems with state and federal compliance.The plant has been operational since early October, and cleaning wastewater “an order of magnitude better,” Monday said.“The EPA had us out in the woodshed,” he said. “It was a long, hard row to hoe.”Monday particularly praised Angel Campos for his participation early on in the project, and project manager Myers as “the star of the whole show” for bringing the plant on time and on budget.Curry also spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and praised the cooperative spirit shown by the county to complete the plant.“This is an example and a model for how a community can work with us to succeed,” he said. “This is an occasion where we get to wear a white hat.”The county’s new wastewater treatment plant was completed with less than 2 percent change orders, under project manager Gaylyn Meyers, for a total price of approximately $11.5 million.The project is financed mainly through sewer rates, but the utilities department received $50,000 from the Department of Energy, $335,000 from the state legislature and $650,000 from the Water Trust Board in funding.Meyers thanked engineering firm Molzen Corbin and contractor Western Summit for their cooperation, and all of the plant operators but especially Jeff Ayers and Santiago Martinez for teaching her the technical aspects of wastewater plant operation.“Western Summit did a great job to help us bring the project in,” Meyers said.He added that Western Summit worked in a very environmentally conscious way, they helped us save some old-growth trees, and they worked with our volunteers to clean up the canyon.”