The City of David City continues to grapple with its old and long-unmaintained water and wastewater treatment facilities.
Shortly after the City Council of David City’s June 9 meeting started, David City Water and Wastewater Department Supervisor Aaron Gustin walked to the microphone in the basement of the David City Municipal Auditorium, 699 Kansas St.
After he introduced himself, Gustin brought the council up to speed on an incident at the David City Wastewater Treatment Plant during the first week in June. While finishing the installation of some badly needed new equipment, two men received electrical shocks. Gustin said neither required medical attention and were able to continue working.
The new equipment is very sensitive to induced voltage, Gustin said, so he had someone from Commonwealth Electric in Columbus come out to work on it.
The Commonwealth Electric worker was joined by an employee of Olsson Associates, the engineering firm that consults for David City.
In trying to diagnose an issue with the new equipment, Gustin said the two men discovered some “extremely unsafe” electrical wiring.
“Both were shocked multiple times,” Gustin said. “...They found multiple live wires that were not grounded properly, so we had to have a ground wire rerun to the PLC, that way the induced voltage has somewhere to go. That induced voltage is anywhere between 50 and 90 volts.”
The induced voltage had been going unchecked and, Gustin said, the new pieces of equipment were so sensitive to it that they were activating on their own, “completely negating” the facility’s only treatment process.
Gustin said the old, worn-out equipment was strictly mechanical and quite simple. At the meeting, David City resident Darci Betzen questioned why a more complicated system replaced it instead of one that was comparable.
Gustin said the city’s consulting engineers – upon whom he and the city rely for guidance and expertise -- would be better poised to answer her question.
In the meantime, Gustin said the Commonwealth worker involved has questioned how the wiring ever passed final inspection. Later, Mayor Alan Zavodny asked how long it had been unsafe.
At the June 9 meeting, Gustin said the wiring has been that way since it was first installed, as far as he knows.
“We could find no wiring diagrams, no record of work in regards to the ground wiring, other than a statement or a claim made to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) a few years back that all the wires had been redone,” Gustin said.
Ward 1 Council Member Tom Kobus wondered how the situation was allowed to go on for so long.
“I’m not 100% aware that individuals were aware of the situation. I’ve worked around those PLCs and that junction box for years,” Gustin said.
Gustin later added that there is also supposed to be routine maintenance that went undone for decades.
At the June 9 meeting, Gustin said the corrective work would be completed by the end of the week.
“Unfortunately, because of the circumstances and the severity of the job, the cost is high,” Gustin said.
Zavodny was unequivocal – the cost of a life cannot be measured.
“We have avoided someone getting killed by narrow margins way too often. And I’m done with that,” Zavodny said.
Zavodny asked how the city could do a thorough check of the facility, and Gustin said it would require an engineering firm doing a total system evaluation of the wastewater treatment plant.
Zavodny encouraged the council to strongly consider adding an item to the agenda of the next regular meeting, on June 23, to put out a request for proposal for such an evaluation.
Molly Hunter is a reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.