WHITEFIELD — Improvements to the wastewater treatment plant were celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday.

The $8.5 million project brings the 35-year-old plant into compliance with federal regulations, improves operations and protects the nearby John’s River.

Peter Corey, the Select Board chair, said the facility upgrade would have a lasting impact on the town.

“This is a generational project,” he said. “Something like this doesn’t happen very often in a community. This will serve the Town of Whitefield for many decades to come.”

The project was set in motion five years ago.

In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency notified the town they were in violation of discharge permits into the neighboring John’s River.

The EPA ordered the town to rectify the issue or face significant fines.

“We received a letter from the EPA that said ‘You’ve been violating your discharge permits into the John’s River for many years, and we’ve had enough, and it’s time for you to do something about it,’” Corey recalled.

Shortly afterward, a group of people — who Corey described as a “team of superheroes” — approached the town with a plan.

They included representatives of the state Department of Environmental Services, federal USDA Rural Development, and local firm, Horizons Engineering.

With their help, Whitefield obtained grant funding — including a $3 million USDA Rural Development grant — which covered 45 percent of project costs.

Wright-Pierce provided the engineering design and Daniel Hebert, Inc. performed the work. It will be operated by H2O Innovation.

In order to bring the wastewater treatment plant into compliance with strict new total phosphorous standards, operations were changed. The passive lagoon method was replaced with an active mechanical method, which required the construction of new processing, filtering and treatment facilities.

The upgraded plant meets current requirements and can be upgraded further to satisfy future needs. It also can accept home waste from septic haulers, providing a new revenue stream to support operations.

It is critical infrastructure in Whitefield, serving approximately 600 residential and commercial users, with a treatment capacity of 0.185 million gallons per day.

Addressing over 40 people in attendance on Wednesday, Corey said, “A facility like this is an essential component of any community. Economic development can only happen if you have a facility available to meet the needs of your citizens and if that facility is able to meet their needs into the future.”

The plant was dedicated to the late William “Bill” Robinson, who served as the wastewater treatment facility superintendent for 25 years, from 1986 (when it opened) to 2011.

A Whitefield resident for more than 50 years, Robinson was a model citizen. He served on the Select Board (1971-1977), Planning Board and Capital Improvement Plan Committee, was a charter member of the Whitefield Lion’s Club, and raised three children with his wife Jonna (a longtime town clerk).

Robinson passed away on May 31. His daughter, Tracy, said he would have been moved by the dedication.

“Dad would be very humbled,” she said. “Dad’s looking down on all of us and thanking all of you for all of your hard work, and for this really wonderful honor.”

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