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AMHERST HIRES NEW CONSULTANT TO WORK ON SLUDGE PLANT WOES

Over objections from their own plant superintendent, Amherst officials Tuesday hired another consultant, Micro-Link Inc., to solve ongoing problems with a pelletization project at the town's wastewater treatment facility.

The Town Board has agreed to pay $120,000 to the Elma consulting firm, which believes oxygen levels at the sludge plant are responsible for the pelletization project problems.

Several plant employees, including Plant Superintendent Anthony R. Canna, showed up at the board's afternoon work session to object to the consultant's hiring.

Canna and plant operators have said they believe the digesters used to treat sludge at the plant simply are too small, therefore creating an ongoing foaming problem.

For months, the rift between Amherst town engineers and the sewage treatment plant operators over the failing $8.6 million sludge-to-fertilizer project has regularly surfaced at the Town Board's weekly work sessions.

On Tuesday, however, the group from the plant left Town Hall before the work session ended and they made no public comments.

"There's support for it," Supervisor Susan J. Grelick said of hiring Micro-Link. "We've all talked about this so much, I'm not sure what else there was to say."

Micro-Link Inc. had already turned over a scientific protocol to the town that it said would solve the project's problems. Now, the town is obligated to pay the consulting firm because the town has decided to try it.

"The treatment of a community's wastewater is not an exact science," Town Engineer Paul M. Bowers told board members. "Research and experimentation at the academic level are always advancing. I am sure all of us educated in this area as operators, scientists or engineers do the best we can to keep up with advances. Our wastewater treatment plant is unique, however, and we come to a point when certain adjustments or techniques deserving of consideration should be attempted to make the treatment process more efficient or exact. The Micro-Link protocol will provide us with data and documentation necessary to make important adjustments to save money without jeopardizing effluent quality."

Plant "digesters" that are supposed to fully digest sludge to manufacture relatively odorless fertilizer pellets begin to "foam" well short of their supposed design capacity.

As a result, only a fraction of the sludge Amherst produces can be made into pellets, with the rest going to landfills at an average cost of just below $60,000 a month.

In a related matter Tuesday, the Town Board transferred $250,000 from the town's contingency account to the plant's budget to cover the cost of hauling and disposing of sludge between July and December 1998.

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