Democrat & Chronicle: From outhouse to treatment plant: Naples puts new spin on algae

Village hosts first Algaewheel technology sewage treatment plant in New York state

Julie Sherwood  |  Messenger Post Media USA Today Network

NAPLES, NY — A field in the village of Naples where once stood an outhouse now stands a 21st-century sewage treatment plant powered by algae and sunlight.

The Algaewheel is a first in New York state using proprietary technology developed by OneWater Inc. The facility is also a first for Naples, which has never before had a public sewer system.

Many marveled at the greenhouse-looking facility with hundreds of slow-spinning wheels during a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week.

“We tried for more than three decades,” said Mayor Brian Schenk. “This is nothing short of spectacular — and we did so with state-of-the-art, breakout technology.”

Under a tent with community members sitting socially-distanced style, speakers included Steve Kingsland, OneWater chief operating officer. He said Schenk called him in 2016, eager to pursue Algaewheel for Naples.

“He seemed a little bit pushy, if you know the mayor,” remarked Kingsland. “And in under four years, we are here cutting the ribbon.”

Algaewheel sewage treatment operates as a self-sustaining ecosystem that makes use of daylight, in combination with the mutually symbiotic relationship between algae and bacteria.

“What’s unique about Algaewheel is we have this simple green plant, algae, that uses daylight for an energy source and uses nitrogen and phosphorus that is prevalent in wastewater,” Kingsland said.

“What that means is we don’t have the typical large energy hog blowers that are required in a typical activated sludge wastewater treatment plant,” Kingsland said. “We have algae that’s doing our biological aeration system. We have some blowers, some very small blowers, whose sole purpose is to puff a little bit of air under the wheels and turn those wheels slowly, one to two revolutions a minute.”

Tim Steed, director of site and civil engineering for HUNT Engineers, Architects & Surveyors, explained how the plant is expandable and equipped to serve the entire village of Naples. Initially, the facility will service about 66% of the village, mostly along Main Street. A later phase of the project will connect remaining village properties.

“This is a long way from the outhouse that used to populate this site,” Steed said.

A number of speakers addressed the value of the project from an economic and environmental standpoint. 

Tim Walsh, acting regional director for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said the project fits the DEC mission of reducing pollution and protecting natural habitats — such as the fisheries of Naples Creek that serve as spawning ground for rainbow trout from Canandaigua Lake. Neil Atkins, president of the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association, addressed the positive impact of eliminating pollution from faulty and outdated septic systems.  

Jack Marren, chairman of the Ontario County Board of Supervisors, commended the village for overcoming obstacles involving cost, communication and education to complete a project that village leaders had long pursued. County Economic Developer Michael Manikowski commented on the “celebration of a great journey” to achieve such an economic development project.

Having a public sewer system promises to attract more businesses and boost the local economy. The village is already seeing a resurgence of business that includes two local breweries planned for Naples in addition to other ventures requiring public sewer. 

Speakers also included Robert Duffy, president and CEO of Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, a former New York lieutenant governor who chaired the Regional Economic Development Councils during his tenure; Mike Joseph, who heads the Naples Valley Visitors Association and the newly formed Naples Area Economic Development Coalition; and local developer Steve Richards, who owns Naples Creek Apartments. The two members of Congress whose districts include Naples sent representatives: Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, represents the village and the town’s east side; Rep. Chris Jacobs, R-Buffalo, represents the town’s west side.

State Sen. Rich Funke, R-Perinton, advocated for state funds and support for the project.

“This is a great village with great people,” Funke said, “and we knew Naples could be even better.”

The $11 million sewer project received a $4.25 million state grant and additional monies in the form of grants and zero-interest loans to pay for sewer infrastructure. The expense of connecting properties and abandoning individual septic tanks is included in the project cost. Property owners will pay an annual sewer fee that Schenk estimates will be about $600 for an average household.

The village will begin connecting new properties within the next couple of weeks. 

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