Efforts to bring the Johnstown wastewater treatment plant into state compliance – with tighter rules on the amount of liquid sludge accepted from outside sources being implemented – have left the Portage Area Sewer Authority looking for backup.

The authority might have found it down the road with the Forest Hills Municipal Authority.

No deals have been hammered out, but members of both authorities think they can resolve the issue.

“They’re a neighbor, and if we can accommodate them, we will. They’re in a bind,” said Kirk Moss, chairman of the Forest Hills authority

For several years, Portage has been taking the sludge, the final product of its 1970s treatment plant, to the Johnstown facility for final processing.

Portage is one of many sources of sludge treated there, but it is the largest generator and the one looked to first when volume reductions are needed, said Jeff Mulligan, chief operator at the city plant.

The sludge processing long has been offered to smaller municipalities, which the state Department of Environmental Protection encourages. But it cannot be done at the expense of the plant, Mulligan said.

Ammonia levels are of particular concern at the Johnstown plant, which are at times higher than DEP wants.

“After much study, we’ve determined we may be accepting more than we should,” Mulligan said. “We have to be able to control the amount on a per-day and per-week basis.”

Currently the plant, in West Taylor Township, is processing 50,000 to 60,000 gallons of sludge weekly. A new protocol calls for a reduction to about 35,000 gallons.

The sludge hauled from Portage to Johnstown amounts to about 7,000 gallons per day.

The Portage authority has budgeted $60,000 in 2008 for sludge handling, which includes transportation.

Forest Hills is asking for – and Portage said it would provide – an in-depth analysis of its sludge. Then the two can begin talking volumes and price.

The Forest Hills plant was built in 2000, and an upgrade is nearly completed.

Any agreement between the two should be short-lived. Construction on a new $10 million treatment facility by the Portage authority will begin early next year with completion in 2009.

It will produce nearly dry sludge, which then can go to a landfill.

The Altoona City Authority also may be willing to accept the sludge.

The city plant is owned and operated by the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority.

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