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March 30, 2023

City looks to spend $4.6M on sewer sludge removal

After paying more than $2 million to remove sludge from the Hollister wastewater plants in 2015, the city is proposing to spend $4.6 million on another major sludge removal.
The proposal is on the agenda for the Hollister City Council meeting Monday, the last session for three outgoing council members before a new council takes office the following week. It is set for 6:30 p.m. at Hollister City Hall, 375 Fifth St.
The proposal is for the Veolia Water, the contracted operator of the domestic wastewater pond, to hire third-party contractor Synagrow to remove 5,400 tons of sludge from the domestic treatment plant. This comes after the city paid $2.13 million in 2015 to have 1,400 tons of sludge removed from both of the city’s treatment ponds.
Sludge is a naturally occurring byproduct of the waste treatment process, and an agenda report noted how it must be removed to prevent “major breakdowns and repairs” at the plant. Funds would come from a reserve built up from sewer fees paid by city residents.
With Veolia proposing to use the city’s money to hire the third-party contractor, meanwhile, there’s no indication in the agenda that there would be any public bidding on the project.
The city agenda report prepared by Mike Chambless, the head of public works, presents the item as if the city would save significant dollars compared with the per-ton cost of the 2014 removal. Chambless’ report calls it a $3.6 million savings compared with the 2015 removal when taking into account those per-ton costs.
The timing of the proposal, meanwhile, was particularly frustrating for Mayor Ignacio Velazquez. Previously, he has openly preferred an alternative method of treatment instead of the sludge removal.
Documents included with the agenda indicate Veolia and the city received the proposal from Synagrow in a letter dated July 3, while Velazquez had not heard anything about the issue until Thursday morning when informed by San Benito Live.
“That’s why I want reports,” Velazquez said.
Velazquez recalled that the prior sludge removal was supposed to “take care” of the issue for a lot longer than three and a half years.
“That was supposed to take care of it for a good 10 years,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve heard about it. Don’t show up at a meeting and say, by the way we need a million dollars here.”
Chambless couldn’t be reached immediately Thursday morning to comment on the matter. City Manager Bill Avera also wasn’t immediately available.
The Chambless agenda report details how the city would pay Synagrow $4.275 million and a 6.5 percent overhead fee to Veolia.
Photo courtesy of the Hollister Urban Area Water and Wastewater Master Plan