Small Georgia community benefits from operations partnership for its water and wastewater systems

An O&M contract gave OpTech the opportunity to pull the city of Thomaston, Ga., a small community of 10,200, out of an approaching crisis in water and wastewater services.

Feb. 13, 2003 -- An operations & maintenance (O&M) contract gave OpTech the opportunity to pull the city of Thomaston, Ga., a small community of 10,200, out of an approaching crisis in water and wastewater services.

The O&M service improvements involving water distribution and wastewater collection and treatment facilities, which includes an industrial pretreatment program, resulted in an extension of OpTech's contract. In a letter to the contractor, the city manager of Thomaston said OpTech was already turning things around a few months into the contract. "The city was facing a crisis and you responded immediately," wrote Kerry S. Waldron, Thomaston City Manager in 1998. "Your honesty, frankness, and aptitude for listening are a key ingredient in your company's success."

The partnership was initiated as a three-year contract. It has been extended twice for two years each time.

The contract involved the operation of city's two wastewater treatment plants, each 2.0 MGD, and the operation of the city's water treatment facility: 4.3 MGD.

In addition, OpTech was responsible for the maintenance of 80 miles of wastewater collection lines and 70 miles of water distribution lines, the operation of 22 lift stations, the administration of an industrial pretreatment program, metering, lab services and customer service.

Thomaston had encountered difficulties in managing its water facilities, such as with
delays in customer response time, permit violations, lack of knowledgeable supervision,
and cost containment issues. This contract relieved the city of all operation and maintenance responsibilities, while the city still retains ownership of the facilities.

Further, the city purchased two private water facilities, which OpTech agreed
to operate through the end of the year at no additional cost to the city.

To improve the services for which they were responsible, staffers at OpTech started an on-call system to manage overtime, developed a work order system, created staff-supported training programs in water, CI2 and chemicals, and added a raw water pump, a root saw and a sewer camera.

During the contracts, the city's cited violations of environmental regulations were reduced to zero and there was only one lost-time accident in three years.

Copper and mercury content parameters were also reduced to compliance levels. This was accomplished without employee reductions in the workforce.

"Although OpTech's presence has been only a few months, the contributions made have been monumental," Waldron said. "OpTech in a short period of time has implemented procedures, altered operational processes, and outlined a working pattern to ensure our systems are efficient, effective, and producing."

"As this new approach to water and wastewater operations unfolds, I am confident we will continue to address issues in an approachable manner, always looking to the best interest of the citizens we serve," Waldron said.

RESULTS
OpTech has significantly improved all aspects of wastewater treatment plant operations.
In recognition of those improvements, the City extended the contract in a unanimous city
council vote "to promote continued positive service."

COST SAVINGS - OpTech committed to a two-year fee of $1,050,000 per year,
which the mayor described as "less than the actual contract fees in FY2000."
OpTech will also be able to cap increases for any extensions at three percent, and
the contract allows the City to renegotiate successive terms.

OPERATIONAL EFFECTIVENESS - OpTech has improved effectiveness and
efficiency by introducing predictive and preventive maintenance programs and
implementing work order and on-call systems.

ENVIRONMENTAL COMPLIANCE - OpTech has achieved superior
environmental compliance, in part, by instituting rigorous employee training
programs based on the best practices utilized at its other facilities. Cited permit
violations were reduced to zero.

LABOR MANAGEMENT - Employees at OpTech are not members of a union.
There has been no reduction in force since the contract began, and 50 percent of
the 26 employees are from the original staff. There has been only one lost-time
accident since the beginning of the contract.

COMMUNITY RELATIONS - OpTech participates actively in the day-to-day
life and culture of Thomaston, contributing resources and time to events like the
City of Thomaston Birthday Bash and the Upson-Lee High School Chili
Fundraiser.

OpTech Inc. is a subsidiary of Southwest Water Co.

This case study was provided by the Water Partnership Council. To learn more, visit : http://www.waterpartnership.org/.

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