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Explosions, fires
prompt Ocala, FL to dump USFilter sludge dryer

Jun 3, 2004

The Ocala City Council voted Tuesday to remove the $1 million machine that dries sludge from its city's third water and sewer plant. It exploded weeks ago. City officials said they were frustrated with the product that has malfunctioned more than 50 times, and are angry at manufacturer USFilter. The company has refused to submit an assessment report to the city.

Acting against city manager and city staff's recommendation and legal opinion, on a 3-2 vote, the council approved serving a notice that the machine is to be removed, and directed city staff to get a consultant to find a new manufacturer and replacement dryer. The Dragon Dryer was installed at Water Reclamation Facility No. 3 in 2003. It is a product of the USFilter Davis Products, based in Thomasville, Ga.

Council was divided over the issue Tuesday.

Councilman Mike Amsden was adamant about "yanking" the dryer and suing USFilter for damages. He said he does not believe the corporation "in good faith, (has) put a product in there that is going to enhance the life of this facility."

"I want it out of there. I want it out of there now," said Councilman Mike Asmden, who said the facility is supposed to have a 50-year life cycle. "I don't have any confidence or trust in this machine. The whole thing's a joke. I don't think it's what the community needs."

On April 14, there was a minor explosion inside the Dragon Dryer that caused the metal to bend, doors to blow open and a pipe to pop off. The machine uses an indirect heating technology to dry the wet sludge and produce reusable Class AA biosolids, such a fertilizer.

In a performance report, Ken Lazaro, WRF No. 3 facility manager, said the dryer has operated 71 days since its June 12, 2003 start-up. Of those days, 55 "abnormal" events occurred, which created numerous delays and shut-down of the dyer's operation. In addition to the April 14 explosion, on Feb. 2 a fire erupted at the dry end of the dryer with visible flames on the outside.

As a result of the April 14 explosion, the city has been diverting the sewage from that plant to Water Reclamation Facility No. 2 across town at 4200 S.E. 24th Street, a cost of $3,000 per week.

USFilter officials were prepared to start inspection, repairs and installation of new safety features this month and compensate the city for the hauling costs incurred while the dryer was not operating. Company officials said the dryer could have been back on-line by July.

Tom Corley, vice president/general manager of USFilter Davco Products, said he is disappointed in the council's decision and stands behind the product. He said the company was committed to correct the problems.

"We are disappointed at the actions of the Ocala City Council, but we will of course abide by their decision, and have begun discussions with the city's engineering staff to determine the next steps," Corley said in a written statement. "Our disappointment stems from the fact that we believe that USFilter has made a good-faith effort to determine the cause of the flash fire and resulting system over-pressurization in the dryer unit, has developed a set of measures to guard against a re-occurrence of the incident, and was willing to implement these recommendations at our expense. We believe the result would have been safe, efficient operation of the dryer."

Council President Mary Sue Rich and Councilman Daniel Owen voted to keep the dryer. Rich said pulling the machine and getting another one won't save taxpayers any money. Owen said the company should have an opportunity to repair its product and believes the company has learned a lot.

The next step for the city is to find another dryer. A funding source has not been identified, but likely it would be financed through bonds.

Other dryers include European-based Andritz, a 30-year-old company with 67 locations worldwide and 12 in the United States, and Fenton, based in United States for 20 years, City Engineer Bruce Phillips said.

"We are waiting to hear from USFilter on the removal of their dryer," said Henry Hicks, water and sewer director. "We will be meeting with our consultants Black & Veatch next Thursday to discuss options and possibly start on development of specifications for an RFP (request for proposal) on a new dryer system. "

It has not been determined when recommendations will be ready for council. CH2M-Hill, the city' former engineering consultants, worked as the city's consultants on the design of the $25 million facility and recommended against installing sludge digesters at a cost of $827,000. It recommends a dryer. As a result the city would produce Class AA sludge, a marketable product, rather than the traditional Class B, which has to land applied.

Consultants started negotiations with Fenton, but after failing to meet criteria they moved on to USFilter, which had purchased the patent from Fenton.

Earlier Tuesday, the council had a workshop with various department heads about whether to severe ties with USFilter or keep working with the company. The five recommendations that were presented were:

USFilter repair the existing dryer per the agreed negotiations at no additional cost to the city.

Remove the dryer and replace with sludge digesters requiring the land application of Class B sludge, which would take up to two years to design, permit and construct and cost $1 million; With this alternative, the city would have to continue the costly hauling charges and find available land to apply the Class B sludge which is scarce.

Remove Dragon Dryer, blend sludge from all three plants, install a holding bin, modify sludge drying building and install a Fenton dryer; Total cost is $1.6 million with a total completion of two years.

Build the digesters, remove Dragon Dryer, install Fenton dryer; Cost is $2.3 million with a two-year completion date.

Remove existing dryer and install an Andritz Dryer; Design, permit, modify building, manufacturer and installation would take two and a half years because of complexity of Andritz and major renovations to dryer buildings.

"I'd just as soon start the process over. If it's two years, then so be it," Amsden said. "I'd rather just start the process and put something in there that other communities are using and that's proven."

Lashonda Stinson covers the city of Ocala. She can be reached at lashonda.stinson@starbanner.com.