A Pennsylvania Treatment Plant Caters To Pumping Customers

After losing big industrial customers, a Pennsylvania treatment facility caters to liquid waste carriers with a new, efficient receiving station and sees the flow numbers come back
A Pennsylvania Treatment Plant Caters To Pumping Customers
Business team members for the trucked waste receiving facility at DELCORA are, from left, Barbara Bonnett, Harry Bordley, Bernadette Bohn, Debbie Zetusky, Joe Centrone, John Berry, Chris Lenton, Ian Piro, Mike Cherico, Robert Powell and Mike DiSantis. Not pictured: Mark Dorrin Jr. and Dan Dutton.

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Private trucked waste haulers are playing a role in the renaissance of a Pennsylvania treatment plant that experienced a drastic reduction in industrial wastewater flow over the years. And administrators at the Delaware County Regional Water Control Authority (DELCORA) facility place great value in the haulers’ business.

Prior to 2005, the agency lost wastewater flow and revenue at the Chester, Pennsylvania, plant as major industries closed down or curtailed operations. Rather than load more capital and operating costs on remaining ratepayers, including homeowners, waste haulers were targeted to help make up for the losses. Today, that business generates millions in revenue at the authority’s 50 mgd (design) activated sludge treatment plant.

The agency has worked with haulers of septage, grease and other wastes to design a new, state-of-the-art receiving station and find ways to make truck off-loading faster and more convenient. The business team wants to treat pumping customers with a respect they might not always feel they get at a municipal plant.

“Unfortunately, many municipalities I’ve seen act as if they’re doing the haulers a favor, instead of the other way around,’’ says Mike DiSantis, director of operations and maintenance.

And the facility has been able to offer disposal rates it considers competitive: Haulers pay less than 2 cents per gallon to dump septage, 6 cents per gallon for grease trap waste and an average of 3 to 5 cents per gallon for other sludges.

DiSantis and Chris Lenton, human resources specialist and leader of the agency’s Trucked Waste Team, talked about how the program worked with haulers to create an operation that is beneficial to the authority and the private pumping companies.

Pumper: What was the impetus behind raising the profile of the trucked waste business?

DiSantis: When this plant was originally built, it had more industrial than residential flow. One oil refinery and one paper mill alone comprised more than 28 mgd, and there were other industries, as well. Then, as has happened in other industrial areas in the Northeast, those flows declined. At the end of 2012, an oil refinery closed suddenly, taking away 4 mgd of wastewater that we used to treat. The paper mill at one time had 11 paper machines and was sending 15 mgd; they are down to three paper machines and send us 4 mgd.

Because in terms of residential development this area is pretty much grown out, we had to find new ways to replace that lost revenue, or our remaining ratepayers would have to cover all of our fixed operating expenses, plus all the capital costs required to keep a 40-year-old facility going. The revenue stream from trucked waste helps offset that.

Pumper: How did you go about expanding the trucked waste business?

DiSantis: Ten years ago, the trucked waste business was languishing. We had a business, but no one was doing much to promote it or to help meet the needs of our hauler customers. We recognized that we were under-loaded at an average flow of about 28 mgd. We formed a cross-functional business team that includes representatives from accounting, customer service, engineering, O & M and laboratory. We sat down and created a business plan and then went out and implemented it.

Pumper: What happened to the trucked waste business volume as a result of the business plan?

DiSantis: The business started growing rapidly. We didn’t have to lower prices, and we didn’t have to make any drastic changes to what was already in place. At the end of 2004, we saw about $280,000 in gross revenue from trucked waste. In 2005, which was the first full year we went at it full-speed, we jumped to more than $800,000.

Paying closer attention to customer service and promoting the business really made a difference. We procured a customized software program to handle billing for the trucked waste business. We developed truck routes to help the customers. We offered incentives such as discounts to haulers. We provided a contact list so they could call us and get assistance with how to permit their wastes and their trucks. In 2013, we received $3.57 million in trucked waste revenue.

Pumper: How large is your service territory for trucked waste?

Lenton: We receive material from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. One customer occasionally comes up from Virginia.

DiSantis: We have a great location, right off Interstate 95. I’d say the majority of the waste comes from a 60- to 70-mile radius around us.

Pumper: What led to the creation of the new receiving facility?

DiSantis: We recognized about two years ago that we needed to upgrade the receiving facility. We had three receiving areas in the plant, for receiving trap grease and restaurant grease, for industrial and municipal sludges, and for all the other wastes – septage, industrial wastewater, holding tank waste, food processing waste and others.

We had seven ports piped in above ground. Once the haulers came in with their rigs, they had to sit in a queue, and then when it was their turn they had to back up into a spot. We came up with the idea of a facility that would look like the fuel islands at a giant truck stop. Haulers would pull in, unload, and drive straight out – there would be no backing up. Any size truck would fit, whether a tractor-trailer, a 10-wheeler or even a small six-wheeler.

We built a 10-bay receiving facility that allows our customers to unload a tractor-trailer in seven minutes. In the past we had been running upwards of 20 minutes to get some trucks out of here, and time is money to the haulers – they want to go in and out. When we opened the new facility [January 2014], we got resounding feedback on how much they appreciated it.

Pumper: How exactly do the trucks empty their loads?

DiSantis: We have a pump station at that end of the plant. We built a collection manifold that goes right into that pump station, which delivers the waste to the head of the plant. All they have to do is connect a 4-inch quick-connect hose, open a valve and they’re unloading. At each connection there’s lighting, and they have water to wash down their hose. Everything is heat-traced for winter operation. We’re doing another upgrade to our grease receiving area. Today, drivers have to pressurize to unload. In the new area, they will be able to unload by gravity.

Pumper: How do you record the material received and how are haulers billed?

Lenton: Every load is manifested and sampled. We have a pretty tight monitoring program. Before a truck is allowed to unload, the driver comes into our receiving area, gives the receiver a manifest, takes a sample cup and goes out and gets a sample of the load from a sample port for testing. All manifests we receive from haulers are put into our sludge accounting system by the receiver. That information is uploaded to accounts payable.

Pumper: What volume in trucked waste do you receive?

DiSantis: We average about 500,000 gallons per day, or about 15 million gallons a month, counting all three kinds of wastes. That’s about 180 million gallons a year.

Pumper: Did customers have input to the design of the receiving facility?

Lenton: We had a basic design, but we sought the haulers’ input. As we developed the project, we were constantly in contact with the haulers to get their ideas on what they wanted in the design, what their wish lists were, what would make their jobs easier. We even had one hauler who lent us one of his trucks and a driver to put the facility through the paces on a Sunday, before we finalized the design. We listened, and we couldn’t be happier with the finished product. And the haulers are singing the praises of it.

Pumper: How did you go about getting the haulers’ feedback?

Lenton: It was a combination of small group and individual discussions. The haulers pretty much come in on a daily basis, so we had formed good working relationships with them. They feel pretty free to give us their unbiased opinions about whether something is good or bad.

Pumper: What kind of outreach did you undertake to attract new customers and expand the business?

DiSantis: Our business team decided that we should be attending conferences, including the state and regional Water Environment Associations, the state Rural Water Associations and the Pennsylvania Septage Management Association. Some we attended once, some we attended a few times. That raised our profile and got people talking about us. 

Pumper: What steps do you take to sustain the business?

DiSantis: I can’t say enough about how important the relationships are. Many of the people on our team have built relationships with the customers, and that makes a difference.

Lenton: We hold hauler appreciation days, and we have a dinner once a year for the principals. That way they can meet all the people on the team and put faces with the names. We do things like that to keep the relationships fresh and on a social as well as professional basis. Customers seem to like that.


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