Critical Infrastructure Upgrade During a Pandemic

Critical Infrastructure Upgrade During a Pandemic

MAY 07, 2020

When Woodard & Curran responded to a Request for Proposals to operate and manage the town of Cohasset, Massachusetts’ wastewater treatment facility (WWTF), our team knew the facility’s Zenon membranes had exceeded the manufacturer’s recommended life expectancy and would soon need to be replaced. The town awarded Woodard & Curran the contract, which began January 1, 2019. Within the first few months, a comprehensive facility evaluation was conducted, including a site visit in March from a representative of SUEZ, the membrane manufacturer. At the time, SUEZ provided a quote to upgrade the membrane system and, in following Massachusetts procurement law protocol, the town and operations staff met with nearly a dozen other vendors over the summer months. 

Failure Prompts Emergency Procurement

In early November 2019, the first membrane train failed. The operations staff worked around the clock to ensure there was no need to enact the emergency bypass, which would have resulted in direct discharge to the nearby harbor. They managed to continue operations without raising any compliance issues while our operations specialists worked with town officials to secure an emergency procurement agreement through the state. 

With emergency procurement approved, an order was placed with SUEZ for Phase 1 to upgrade half of the facility’s membranes and production began at the vendor’s manufacturing facility in Hungary. The order took approximately five months to manufacture and deliver, during which time staff improved operations to maintain treatment quality and efficiency.  

Critical Upgrade Amid a Pandemic

When the new membranes were ordered, no one could have anticipated a global pandemic would soon change how business is done. There were numerous delays during the manufacturing process and, when SUEZ was ready to ship the order, the spread of COVID-19 complicated air freight transport. When the plane finally arrived in the United States, no one was certain it would clear customs. 

The order finally arrived in Cohasset on Monday, April 20, 2020 on a large freight truck. Staff from the town’s Department of Public Works assisted in unloading the seven 2,500-pound crates and staging the equipment for installation. While the pandemic complicated travel from other states into Massachusetts, two of our O&M specialists and two SUEZ field representatives were able to be on site to assist as well. 

Not only was upgrading 50 percent of the facility a massive undertaking while maintaining full operational function, the team was also challenged by cold, wet weather and the need to maintain physical distancing recommendations. Most of the work was done outside, due to the small footprint of the WWTF. However, the cold temperatures risked the new membranes freezing, which would render the equipment useless. The team worked in phases – removing an old membrane and installing the new membrane one at a time. 

The units did not arrive fully assembled, which the vendor had indicated. However, the number of parts in each crate was significantly greater than expected, and some critical pieces were missing. One of the SUEZ representatives drove to area Home Depots to source specific stainless-steel bolts while the remaining team worked with what tools they had to assemble the new membrane for installation. 

Collaboration is Critical

Our operations team and the town worked well together in obtaining the emergency procurement agreement, planning for the upgrade, and the actual installation work itself. This work is the first phase of a two-part $1.2 million upgrade to the facility. This partnership is critical to successful infrastructure upgrades in normal conditions, but especially during this new normal all of America is experiencing. The teamwork involved helped move the upgrade along so it was complete by the end of the week. 


Operations Leader
Operations & Management

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