Biosolids find new purpose at Lake Avenue facility

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Steam rises from biosolids material being aeriated by a windrow turner at the City of Fort Wayne’s Biosolids Handling Facility on East Lake Street at Maplecrest Road.

Fort Wayne’s Biosolids Handling Facility between the Maumee River and Lake Avenue has routinely gone about its business for nearly 50 years primarily out of public view. Settling lagoons, windrows of biosolids and lime, bulldozers, giant road scrapers, mixing bins and conveyor belts were all pretty much out of view from Lake Avenue.

People who took yard waste, brush trimmings and logs to the site and those who biked or hiked along the River Greenway were the only ones who really saw what was going on there. That was the case until Maplecrest Road was extended from Lake Avenue south across the river to U.S. 24 just west of New Haven a couple years ago. Now, drivers have an unobstructed view as they cut across part of the 400-acre facility.

The property is much more than a dumping ground for yard waste and effluent from the city’s Water Pollution Control plant on Dwenger Avenue. Instead, it is an efficiently run business that turns waste water into lime for use on farmers’ fields and sludge from the treatment plant and leaves from throughout the city into biosolids that can be used in landscaping and gardening.

As Frank Suarez, information director for City Utilities, said, “Every day out here is Earth Day. Everything that comes here is repurposed. Leaves are composted and then mixed with dry biosolids from 10 2-acre lagoons to make an extraordinarily rich fertilizer. Chemicals used to soften Fort Wayne’s drinking water are piped from the water treatment plant into 27 lagoons at the site. It settles for four to six months before it can be dredged out and put in windrows to dry. Prior to that it has the consistency of toothpaste and takes about two years from the time it is pumped into the lagoons to being a finished product — lime.”

“This is an important city facility,” he added, “because it operates as a profit center and keeps thousands and thousands of tons of waste from going into landfills every year. We sell more than 20,000 tons of biosolid products, nearly 30,000 tons of lime and around 2,500 tons of mulch a year. In addition, in October 2015 we began using the methane gas produced from ‘cooking’ the waste sludge in the anaerobic digestion process at the waste water treatment plant to make electricity. It saved the city $420,000 on its electric bill this past year. We’re also looking into a method to process waste food byproducts. In short, we’re looking for ways of improving the city’s carbon footprint.”

The city has contracted the operation of the Biosolids Handling Facility to Fox Contractors. Travis Medina of Fox is in charge of the day-to-day operation. He works closely with Brian Robinson, biosolids superintendent and head of the waste water treatment plant. During peak season, more than 61 tons of leaves a day are brought to the site and dumped in a huge pile that includes bedding straw from the zoo. It will compost throughout the winter before being blended with the bulking agents (tree trimmings and yard waste) and biosolid waste and then placed in windrows. Special equipment is used to turn the windrows five times in the first 15 days to maintain an internal temperature of 140 degrees, which kills weed seeds and micro-organisms.

As Robinson explained, “the biosolid material is better than dry/granular fertilizer because it sticks well to the soil and acts more like dirt. It actually improves the physical characteristic of the soil. It tends to make clay-like soils lighter and more porous and helps sandy soils retain water. Blended with mulch, biosolids reduce watering requirements. As a potting medium, biosolids make an excellent substitute for manure composts, peat moss and other typical soil mixes.”

“We also run a spoils recovery operation, which involves bringing dirt, rocks and concrete here from various city projects that otherwise would go to a landfill. We screen the rocks out of the dirt and recycle it for use by the city. The concrete is crushed and used for road bedding.”

Residential waste accepted at the facility includes branches, logs, grass, leaves (loose or in biodegradable paper bags), brush trimmings and clean root balls no bigger than 42 inches in diameter. There is a minimal charge for residential waste. Mulch and fertilizer is free when loaded by the homeowner. Hours at the facility from December through March are 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday. April through November hours are 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. For more information, call (260) 749-8040.