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NSSD considers Zion sludge plant changes

North Shore Sanitary District's ZiSludge Recycling Facility Green Bay Road 9th Street. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media

North Shore Sanitary District's Zion Sludge Recycling Facility at Green Bay Road and 9th Street. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 11, 2014 3:22AM

GURNEE — Trustees of the North Shore Sanitary District held annual elections and considered future plans for its $50 million Zion Sludge Recycling Facility at its monthly Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday.

Board officers elected for 2014 will be Stephen J. Drew as president, Daniel M. Pierce as vice president and Thomas E. Swarthout as treasurer.

The Board also accepted a letter from Donohue Associates, Sheboygan, Wis., that indicated that the company does not desire to continue its operations management contract at the District’s Sludge Recycling Facility (SRF) in Zion when the contract expires on March 25, 2014.

In a letter to the Board signed by Craig Brunner. Donohue’s president, and Vice President Michael Gerbitz, both said the original five-year employment agreement was understood to be on an interim basis at the District’s request.

“When we assumed the operations role, the SRF was not reliably processing all District sludge, requiring expensive landfill diversions, and the (sludge) drying system was operating at only one-quarter of its design capacity. Since Donohue assumed the operations role, all District sludge has been processed by the drying facility without a single landfill diversion, and dryer performance has improved. Today, the drying system is operating beyond its design capacity,” they wrote.

“Donohue is proud of its record. Nevertheless, Donohue understands the District’s present-day position: that the interests of the District will be best served by transitioning the long-term operation of the SRF to either District personnel or a company that specializes in wastewater operations,” they pointed out.

The District’s SRF was originally built on the concept that sludge waste from its three sanitary treatment plants in Highland Park, Waukegan and Gurnee could be processed into a commercial product used for road construction or fertilizer, rather than just burying the sludge in controversial landfills.

However, over time, a series of problems developed, most having to do with the melter equipment that was to convert the sludge into the commercial granulate. Instead the melter created toxic fumes jeopardizing the safety of plant workers. Officials promptly shut the melter down, sealed the work area, and hired a decontamination team to remove any toxic materials from the plant. Meanwhile, the sludge continues to be deposited in landfills.

The District’s Board is now considering whether to seek another company to operate the plant, replacing the role that Donohue has provided for the past five years, or simply operate the facility with its own personnel.

Two specialized companies presented proposals to the NSSD Board Dec. 11 offering to manage the Zion facilities, then convert and market the waste sludge into commercial grade fertilizer. The Board accepted the proposals for further study.

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