ST. ALBANS TOWN — A failure of two sewer pumps at the St. Albans Town Industrial Park — the second being earlier this month — nearly caused a disaster that would have cost the town thousands of dollars per minute, according to officials.
The first pump failure happened earlier this year. Selectboard Chair Brendan Deso says a bushing that should have been built out of a harder material wore out.
“I think the pump manufacturer actually recalled every pump in their batch. They had one in the St. Louis area that went down for a similar reason. So, it’s not just us,” says Deso.
While that pump was sent out to be fixed on warranty, another incident on May 3 caused the second pump at the facility — which handles all the waste from the industrial park, including Ben & Jerry’s and Barry Callebaut — to go down.
“Alan (Mashtare, Public Works Director) and John (Montagne, Facilities Manager/Parks Supervisor,) ran there as fast as they could and a team of people responded. They were able to get a replacement pump — a temporary pump — in place to keep the system online,” said Deso.
A failure of the system would have meant a shutdown of all operations in the industrial park. Deso says that he was told the shutdown of Ben & Jerry’s alone would have cost the town $5,000 per minute.
Since that second failure, the first pump has been returned to the town. While they wait for the second to come back, the temporary pump is working in its place, according to Town Manager Carrie Johnson.
Johnson says park tenants are working with Mashtare to time the release of some of their wastewater.
“So, say there’s an ice cream line being manufactured or something, it will be ok,” she says. “The challenge here is that this pump has to be substantial because it’s pumping the effluent 110 feet up. If you think about where the plant is geographically and what the process is, there’s a limited number of places you can go to get those pumps.”
The industrial park sewer pumps, which were upgraded in 2019, are owned and maintained by the town. However, they push the pump effluent to the St. Albans City sewer plant.
“That’s probably the first question … people are like, ‘Well, I thought it was the city’s sewer?’ The town-owned pump station takes care of all the waste from the industrial park, including Barry Callebaut and Ben & Jerrys,” says Johnson.
She says that engineers have determined the cause and they don’t anticipate it happening again.
Deso praised the work that the town has done to locate and fix the issue.
“I know in previous meetings, selectboard members have said the department of public works doesn’t have water and sewer infrastructure to maintain. Well, they sure as hell do. And they did their job. We avoided a disaster that would have wound us up on national television if we hadn’t caught it in time. So, good job guys!” he said.