Nearly a year after a fire devastated Bay County's waste-to-energy facility, the plant appears to finally be on the verge of going back on line. County officials, the plant's operator and local solid waste haulers can hardly wait.
According to Joe Tannehill, Jr., managing partner for plant operator Engen, LLC, repairs to the incinerator are nearly complete. "We've actually been able to do some hot tests running on natural gas, which is a significant milestone," he said. The plant's boilers have also been subjected to tests, Tannehill said.
As the project nears completion, installation of the fire alarm panel is a top priority and it's expected to be completed in the next couple of weeks. "We're hoping that by the end of January we'll be running on garbage, at least in a test mode," said Tannehill. "Hopefully, soon thereafter we'll be back to full production again."
When fire raced through the facility in February 2012, it forced a complete shutdown. No one thought it would last nearly a year. "This process has been paced at the speed of money, the speed that we've been able to obtain claim money from the insurance companies," said Tannehill. Seven insurance companies are involved in the case and have collectively paid out tens of millions in damage claims.
The county owns the incinerator and pays Engen $60,000 a month to operate it. A business interruption insurance policy has prevented the county from losing money during the shutdown, but solid waste haulers have been forced to take their loads to the Steelfield landfill – increasing costs and cutting into profits.
County Commissioner Mike Nelson is frustrated by the delay and the burden it has placed on incinerator customers. "We're here to try to facilitate moving garbage and I want to take care of the people that bring it to us," said Nelson.
Extensive changes to the incinerator's physical plant are expected to prevent another major fire. The refuse building is now separated from the boiler building and the fire suppression system features a new 500,000 gallon water tank, thermal imaging cameras to identify hot spots in collected garbage, and extra water cannons and ceiling-mounted sprinkler heads. In addition, a newly-constructed administration building is located away from the main processing plant.
"These are all steps taken to make the facility's ability to respond to another big fire much better and the likelihood of it being a catastrophic fire a lot less," said Tannehill.
Engen is taking the time to test all systems before reopening the incinerator to waste haulers. "We don't want to come back one day too early and risk not having the reliability we need," said Tannehill. "We're really trying to test everything… make sure we're ready, make sure we're reliable so that when we do tell them to come back it will be for a long time."