Changing the Guard at Mechanic Falls, ME
by Maggie Finn
There is something in the wastewater in Maine! Tom Schultz has just retired from 43 years in the wastewater field, with 30 and 1/2 at Mechanic Falls. Recently, Tom and I met with his successor, Nick Konstantoulakis, in Tom's former office at the Mechanic Falls plant. Nick, the new Director of Wastewater Operations, dove out of the seat of honor, in Barney Fief fashion, to make way for Tom. Their comraderie is the result of the 8 years Nick was apprenticed to Tom. That is how it works, ideally. Superintendents have an understanding of their plants and their idiosyncracies that is shared over time with their successors. With big personalities, the plants and their caretakers dance through the rainstorms and the beautiful fall days. This is a trade not learned in a classroom, but over a misbehaving pump or malfunctioning electrical connection.
Six years ago, Tom and Nick joined with the typically larger plants who are in the elite of biosolids management and signed up for the National Biosolids Partnership (NBP) Environmental Management System. Tom always looked for ways to make this small plant stand out and do what was not yet required. Nick graduated from the first Management School that the Maine training group, JETCC, offered, and carries on the tradition. When the state comes for an inspection or a question comes up, they stand by their biosolids management plan. "It's been great!" It was a challenge that paid off.
For 30 years, the same farmer has taken the lime-stabilized biosolids, with excellent results. It is one of the relationships common to small towns that works well. Soil pH has not been an issue, because of the amount of land available. But sometimes transporting the liquid biosolids was challenging; now, with careful protocols and management, that too has been running smoothly. Mechanic Falls has a cost-effective solution to the biosolids management question.
Small plants seem simple at first glance, but all the problems common to large plants are here as well. Nick is vigilant in all aspects of running the plant, and Tom was obviously a good teacher. As we walked the grounds together, they were understandably proud of the rich brown color of in the oxidation ditch and the lack of odor. Honestly, nothing smelled here. I thought all plants had some odor, but all I could smell was the freshly mowed grass.
Tom has earned his time on the golf greens or whatever adventure he chooses. Nick will carry on in a well-trained and enthusiastic fashion. At the end of the tour, Nick asked with great anticipation "Do you want to see my effluent?" How could I say no? It is the end result of many years of hard work and his attention to today's details. It looked perfectly drinkable. Although I did not toast Tom's retirement, I thank him for being one of the many dedicated superintendents who has done this right.