The City of Bethlehem and RETTEW Associates Inc. are pleased to announce a $1.25 million grant from the PennWorks program for the city’s upgrades to its wastewater treatment plant.

Awarded and administered by the Commonwealth Financing Agency, a program of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, the grant will go toward a total cost of $10.7 million for the project. Planned improvements will upgrade the plant’s biosolids dewatering system with a more efficient operation, as well as increase effluent pump capacity. The city is also seeking financing from the PennVest program through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority to fund the remainder of the project via loans. Construction should start in May or June of 2014. The improvements are part of the city’s Act 537 Sewage Facility Plan approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP).

The City of Bethlehem owns and operates its own wastewater treatment plant on Shimersville Road, which is permitted to process 20 million gallons of wastewater per day. Operations serve 11 contributing municipalities with a total population of more than 130,000, including: Hanover Township, Lehigh County; Hanover Township, Northampton County; Lower Saucon Township; Hellertown Borough; Fountain Hill Borough; Salisbury Township; Palmer Township; Bethlehem Township; Lower Nazareth Township; Freemansburg Borough; and a portion of the City of Allentown.

The city chose RETTEW, a civil and environmental engineering firm, to assist with designing the plant improvements, complete permitting specifications, and manage grant and loan application requests to finance this and other multi-million dollar wastewater treatment plant projects. The engineering design team also includes international environmental engineering leader ARCADIS, with U.S. operations based in Highlands Ranch, Colo., and local offices in Philadelphia, and Bethlehem-based D’Huy Engineering Inc., a structural engineering and construction management firm.

 “The benefit of this [grant] award is that the ratepayers will have to cover less debt service through rates” in the future, said David Brong, Director of Water and Sewer Resources for the city. The grant essentially reduces the cost of the upgrades to $9.45 million, he said. Brong is Mayor-elect Robert Donchez’s nominee for business administrator.

Components of the planned enhancements include: replacing 30-year-old belt filter presses with biosolid dewatering centrifuges and building an addition to house those units, adding two 20-million-gallon-per-day pumps and a new flow meter station, integrating six process areas at a server in the main control building, and installing a new technical panel and fiber optic cables for controls.

The progress will result in increased dewatering of biosolids, ultimately reducing disposal costs. The new pumps will enable the plant to meet PADEP requirements, and the new meter will allow accurate discharge measurements.

“RETTEW has been a trusted source of engineering expertise and funding application support for the city throughout our much-needed upgrade to our wastewater system,” Brong said.

Replacing the dewatering system and increasing pump capacity is the third major project the city has undertaken since 2010 to improve the efficiency and environmental effects of its plant. The first was an aerator replacement in 2011, and digester system and waste-activated sludge thickening improvements are currently under construction.

The PennWorks grant program provides funding to municipalities and municipal authorities for projects that construct, expand or improve water and wastewater infrastructure. This award was part of almost $17.8 million given out throughout the state of Pennsylvania in 2013, with particular emphasis on economic improvements and opportunities that create or retain jobs.