When a toilet is flushed, most people don’t think about what happens to the waste.
“The problem is out of sight, out of mind,” Macon Water Authority president and executive director Tony Rojas said. “You don’t think about it.”
But, industries thinking of coming to Bibb County may take a hard look at the ability and the capacity the county has to treat its waste water before it decides to locate a plant here.
It’s for those individual households, industry and commercial users that the Macon Water Authority is making a major investment in its waste water treatment facilities. The authority hosted Tuesday what it called a “pipe-turning ceremony” at its Rocky Creek Water Reclamation facility to commemorate the beginning of a $40 million waste water capital improvement project. It will renew the authority’s Rock Creek and Lower Poplar waste water treatment facilities.
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“It’s not real sexy kind of stuff, the things that are going on today, but this is going to make these plants cleaner and they will operate more efficiently because we’re doing the infrastructure on the front end,” Rojas said. “It doesn’t so much change things. … It just ensures that we are going to continue to have quality sewer treatment services at the waste water plant and that they are going to be there for future generations. That’s what it means.
One of the treatment facilities was built in the 1950s, the other one in the 1970s and the last time they were updated was in the ‘80s, he said. Combined, the plants have the capacity to treat 48 million gallons of waste water a day. But both have reached the end of their life cycles and now require replacement and/or rehabilitation.
“We have a robust economy, regardless of what people think,” Rojas said.” If you look at the industry and the commerce we have in Macon-Bibb, you can’t have that without this capacity and without that reliable service. You can’t support it. “
To fund this capital improvement project, which is one of the largest single reinvestments in infrastructure in the history the MWA, the Authority intends to issue $40 million in revenue bonds, according to a news release. The MWA already has issued $10 million in revenue bonds, with another $30 million in bond issues planned for this fall.
“I guess what it means to our ratepayers is that their dollars are being reinvested in renewing and rehabilitating their infrastructure,” Rojas said.
Jacksonville, Florida-based The Haskell Co. is the contractor for the project, which will use local companies from Bibb and surrounding counties to do some of the work, the release said. The MWA’s goal is to have at least 20 percent of minority businesses participate in the cost of the project, not counting the cost of equipment, so additional qualifying companies will be recruited to provide support and construction services.
A good example of an industry that needs reliable waste water treatment is Irving Consumer Products, which announced in August last year it would invest about $400 million in a manufacturing plant in Bibb County to be completed in 2019, creating about 200 jobs. The Canada-based company will produce bath tissue and paper towels in a 700,000-square-foot building in the Sofkee Industrial Park.
“They are going to be giving us close to a million gallons a day of waste water and their plant is designed for three phases,” Rojas said. “They need to know that we are reinvesting in the infrastructure because they talk about the fact that they are building a 100-year plant. So, you have to continuously renew and reinvest in your assets, and that’s what we’re doing.”
The waste water that the Macon Water Authority treats goes through a process where it’s cleaned, filtered and fed into the Ocmulgee River below the point where the authority takes in water from the river to process it for drinking water.
The treatment facilities “helps us ensure that we’re going to continue to be in compliance with our permits and make sure that quality treated water is going back into the Ocmulgee,” Rojas said.
Stephen Adams, acting executive director with the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, said the MWA and its ability to treat millions of gallons of waste water a day is important to economic development efforts.
“The more capacity and higher quality water and sewer services you have, the more attractive you are to industry and job providers,” Adams said. “I don’t think it’s any secret that Macon-Bibb benefits from the work and the vision of the Macon Water Authority.
“The improvement coming to our sewer system, which they are celebrating today, will continue to make us the envy of other communities and competitive in attracting the best businesses to our region.”