Opinion

EDITOR'S COLUMN Nov. 7 City's sewage plant is a diverting tour

Sewer aficionados such as myself can’t help but walk away impressed after taking a tour of the Oak Harbor Wastewater Treatment Facility (WFT). The tour was provided by Bob Jarski, who heads up the sewer department and was a very pleasant and informative tour guide, even though not many people ask for tours of the sewer plant. It’s not listed in any of the Oak Harbor tourism brochures I’ve seen, which is too bad. A lot of guys would probably like to tour the wastewater plant while their wives are perusing the shops. It sure beats looking at tea pots and wind chimes.
Upon approaching the WTF, one wonders why the sewer plant was situated in the middle of the city park, with ball fields to one side, lush lawn all around, and the city windmill on the other side. Maybe it was put there so guys can take the tour while the rest of the family is playing softball or swimming? No, explained Jarski. The sewer plant was there first, with the original structure built around 1954. The park came later. Both sewer plants and parks are most logically located next to the water, which explains the strange juxtaposition of facilities.
When you flush the toilet in your home, 60 miles of collection pipes, with the assistance of eight pumping stations, are ready to bring the contents to the sewer plant. The first stop is the Diversion Lift Station, which is something I’d never seen in a sewer plant. That’s because Oak Harbor is served by two sewage processing facilities, and has two Environmental Protection Agency Discharge Permits for Puget Sound. In the sewer business, that’s impressive. Most cities have only one. At the Life Station, about two-thirds of wastewater is diverted to the Seaplane Base, which harbors a large capacity lagoon system which also provides secondary treatment. Its treated water is pumped into Crescent Harbor. Oak Harbor WTF product goes into Oak Harbor. So in essence, Oak Harbor has two sewer plants. The Lift Station was built in 1991-92, when the city and Navy agreed the city would operate both systems. As a result, there is plenty of room for growth in Oak Harbor from a sewer perspective. Jarski said the plants are operating only at 50 to 60 percent of capacity. In addition, the Navy has its own Wastewater Treatment Facility serving the Ault Field area.
When sewage enters the Oak Harbor WTF, the first step is to remove “coarse material.” A machine grinds it up so none of the strange stuff that’s flushed down the toiled is visible. “You can’t see the oddities,” Jarski said. That was the most disappointing part of the tour.
Wastewater then follows a gauntlet of settling tanks, clarifiers skimmers and, finally, rotating biological contactors that go round and round, like a sideways ferris wheel. Good “bugs” eat what solids remain, then the water is chlorinated before being sent back into Puget Sound. All the collected solids become sludge, which is heated and sterilized with the methane gas it produces and eventually dispersed on farmland.
Wastewater is continually tested, with periodic tests sent to state watchdogs. Oak Harbor is in good graces with the state, having zero violations over the last five years.
Bottom line: Oak Harbor has a sewer system to take pride in. Even if it’s not in tourist brochures.

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