Deerfield looks to ‘most feasible alternative’ for wastewater treatment plant


Staff Writer

Published: 02-08-2024 4:02 PM

DEERFIELD — Having considered early potential designs for the Old Deerfield Wastewater Treatment Plant put forward by the town and a group of nonprofits residing in town, Deerfield officials say their plan makes more financial sense moving forward.

In a continuation of discussions that began in December 2022, the town and the nonprofits — led by Deerfield Academy Chief Financial Officer Matt Sheehy — are trying to determine which way is the best path forward for the treatment plant on Little Meadow Road, which is in rough shape, according to Selectboard member Trevor McDaniel. The nonprofits involved are Deerfield Academy, Historic Deerfield, The Bement School and Eaglebrook School.

Both plans underwent an independent peer review from engineering firm Weston & Sampson, with company representative Matthew Jermine saying the town’s activated sludge system — which is the current system running in the plant — would be “the most feasible alternative” for Deerfield when compared to the nonprofits’ membrane bioreactors (MBR) system.

“What my concern is, the MBR is wonderful when you have a tight system, but we have I and I, infiltration of water,” Selectboard Chair Carolyn Shores Ness said Monday, noting the activated sludge system can handle the water infiltration. In Deerfield, the Selectboard also serves as the Sewer Commission.

McDaniel said both plans are estimated to cost in the $16 million to $17 million range, but he noted there could be additional costs with the MBR system because larger tanks would need to be installed to store excess stormwater — such as the water from this year’s summer storms — and some of the pipe infrastructure might need to be replaced as well.

Water infiltration, he continued, is actually essential to the function of the Old Deerfield plant because the flows get so low during the summer months, when Deerfield Academy students aren’t on campus, that the pipes can become blocked.

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“If you don’t have the I and I … everything just dries up and blocks up,” McDaniel explained. “You have to have a happy medium.”

The nonprofits’ design, Sheehy said, is more environmentally friendly, would be easier to build and could keep nitrogen levels down, which could be the subject of future regulations. He noted they spent $225,000 on the 30% design presented to Weston & Sampson.

“We’re not here to argue, we’re here to simply say, ‘Here’s a perspective; we think there are alternative ways to address this,’” Sheehy told the board last week. “Once again, this is your decision to make as sewer commissioners and if you want to borrow $25 million to build the plant, that’s your prerogative.”

He added Monday that along with a smaller building footprint, the Old Deerfield Wastewater Treatment Plant could operate during construction with the nonprofits’ proposed design and a lower capacity could help better manage water infiltration. Sheehy said the plant processes fewer than 80,000 gallons of wastewater at its peak, but stormwater infiltration greatly increases the amount of water needing to be processed.

“Our belief is that the plant can be sized much smaller to handle the actual wastewater while fixing the infrastructure, which is contributing to the fluctuating flows and infiltration,” Sheehy wrote in an email. “Long story short, we simply want to partner with the town to ensure that the renovation of the existing plant is done efficiently and in the best interests of the users for decades to come.”

The other challenge, on the town’s end, is juggling such a large financial project with general town operations, all while still trying to bounce back from millions of dollars in storm damage from summer 2023.

“Truthfully, right now our priority is the roads,” Shores Ness emphasized Monday.

While it is still early in the process and there is a disagreement between the two parties right now, Sheehy said the nonprofits are willing to continue working with Deerfield if it wants assistance.

“When you’re ready to explore other things,” Sheehy said, “we’re prepared to be your partner again.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at or 413-930-4081.