Weather Forecast


Breathe easy, Perham: Expansion at wastewater treatment facility appears to be doing the trick

It’s well into summer, and the air around Perham is refreshingly odorless.

Since the spring thaw, citizens have been holding their breath in anticipation of an answer to the big question on everyone’s minds – will the city’s wastewater treatment facility emit bad smells like it has in the past, or has the recent expansion project taken care of the problem, as promised?

The answer is blowing in the wind – or, rather, isn’t.

With the spring thaw long over and several hot and humid days come and gone, residents have begun to breathe a collective sigh of relief – the air is clear. By and large, the issue seems to be resolved.

“Everything’s been working good this spring,” reported Merle Meece, the city’s public works director, during a tour of the treatment facility on Monday. “It’s doing what we hoped it would do.”

Meece said all six aeration and holding ponds at the facility are in working order and are being used. That includes a massive new 20-acre pond, which has given the facility a much-needed boost in its storage capacity (increasing capacity by 83 million gallons per year).

New aeration systems installed in the older ponds are keeping oxygen levels where they need to be – a crucial factor in the odor issue – and daily monitoring continues to show that the facility is operating as it should be.

“Things have improved a lot,” said Meece. “The winter storage has improved a lot. We didn’t have this kind of storage before.”

Meece said there were a few small issues to work out yet this spring and summer, such as air lines to repair, a blower to fix and some painting to finish up; but those kinds of minor things are expected with any project of this size, he said.

The $6 million project, which began in November 2011, was mostly finished by last fall.

Along with the city project, some of Perham’s largest industries started giving more attention to the odor issue, making efforts to improve their own wastewater pre-treatment processes and more closely monitoring what flows out to the city’s facility.

After three odor-filled springs in a row, residents and tourists were getting impatient for a permanent fix.

Last summer, a group of business and community leaders came together to devise an informational marketing campaign to combat bad press regarding the odor. With a catchphrase of “Let’s Clear the Air,” the campaign aimed to explain the situation to visitors and made assurances that the problem would soon be a thing of the past.

So far this year, community response to the fresh air has either been positive, or nil.

Meece said he’s heard no complaints from the public, and City Manager Kelcey Klemm said he hasn’t heard much, either. Dan Schroeder, the Perham Area Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, said business owners he’s heard from “are happy with the results – and no smell!”

Still, Klemm cautioned that it may be too soon to proclaim the project a total success.

“So far so good,” he wrote in an email to the Focus, adding, “With basically a new system, I think it will take us some time to see how the system handles itself throughout the year.”

There’s also another big question that still lingers around this topic – how long will the newly expanded facility last?

Initially, planners said it should get Perham through another 20 years, odor-free. But if the city continues to grow at the rate it has been, city leaders have hinted that time estimate may be too generous.

“Is it going to be big enough for the town in the long run?,” asked Meece on Monday. “Time will tell us.”