Tyrone, Altoona may join forces

Water Authority

Tyrone Borough figured it was better to cooperate, rather than compete, with the much bigger municipality 18 miles to the south.

Borough officials have been talking with officials of the Altoona Water Authority about sending Tyrone’s sewer sludge to the authority’s Westerly Treatment Plant, if Altoona follows through on its plans to build a digester to generate methane gas that would fuel a dryer to convert sewer sludge from troublesome Class B to innocuous Class A biosolids.

Tyrone itself was planning to build a digester to eliminate the need for paying increasingly high landfill costs for its 20 daily tons of sludge — and to eliminate the worry that landfilling will eventually be prohibited altogether — until it put those plans on hold last November.

It wasn’t until now, however, that it became clear that Altoona’s digester plans were a significant reason for the borough’s backing off.

“Everything is contingent on Altoona’s direction,” Borough Manager Ardean Latchford said Thursday, when contacted after an Altoona authority meeting. At that meeting, Wastewater Operations Director Todd Musser spoke of the recent launch of an “investment grade audit” that will include partial design of the Westerly digester — and that will help the Altoona authority determine whether to execute the digester project.

“If both of us build digesters, we would be more like competitors,” Latchford said. “Why not work together?”

In November, Tyrone officials spoke of suspending work on its digester planning because of caution triggered by the realization that the momentum of preparation had taken the borough to the point where a commitment was going to be required.

On Thursday, Latchford said that Altoona’s decision the previous month to give Energy Systems Group the go-ahead for a preliminary audit on its digester project was largely responsible for Tyrone’s hesitation.

“That’s when we put the brakes on our plans,” he said. “Whenever we started to see how serious Altoona was.”

Sending Tyrone’s sludge to Altoona “sounds to me like it’s mutually beneficial,” Latchford added, “a savings for us, a benefit to them.”

Tyrone is paying more than $300,000 a year to dispose of its Class B sludge, consulting engineer Kevin Nester of GHD told Borough Council in November.

Drying the material so that it becomes Class A sludge would make it marketable for homeowner mulch, officials have said.

In addition to speaking to Tyrone, Altoona is also reaching out to other municipalities with sewer systems within an approximately 40-mile radius, Musser said.

“We’d like Altoona to become a regional (sludge) receptor,” Musser said. “We can turn it into a really positive revenue stream.”

There would be at least one other major revenue stream if Altoona builds the anaerobic digester — charges for receiving the “high-strength” liquid waste from food processing plants that the digester would process to create the methane gas that would fire the sludge dryers.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.