Anthony Sauls, lead wastewater treatment operator for Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority, explains the process that takes place in the equalization basin at the new Hardeeville Water Reclamation Facility. GWYNETH J. SAUNDERS

The new Hardeeville Water Reclamation Facility (HWRF) that officially opened last week is designed to withstand hurricanes, industrial and population growth … and, yes, that bracelet and the occasional small toy your 2-year-old flushed down the toilet.

The new facility, operated by the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority, replaces one built in 1977, which handled a half-million gallons of wastewater per day, with a modern automated system that can expand from its new level of 2.7 mgd (million gallons per day) to 4 mgd.

Ed Saxon, general manager of BJWSA, said that was no mean feat.

“The most difficult thing was we had an existing plant on site, one more than 40 years old. We had to make a lot of connections because we had to continue to operate that plant while we were building this one, so that’s always a little tricky,” Saxon said, following the Jan. 30 ribbon-cutting ceremony at the plant. “We were able to make all those connections, shut that plant down and do all of that without interrupting service. That was due to good engineering and good contracting by our staff.”

Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams said the new plant “will definitely support the anticipated growth of our light industrial expectations in the southern half of the city.

“The impact for the city is enormous because the new capacity exceeds the current projections for 20-year growth,” he said. “That means we can grow as planned without stress on the system. There will be no deterrent to growth.”

Williams added that as the new developments come in, HWRF will be able to accommodate them, including East Argent and Margaritaville, and the increase in single family homes. In 2017, home building went up 77 percent in Hardeeville and the town staff expects it to be even higher for 2018.

BJWSA also extended its support of the town’s water lines.

“In the report they gave us recently,” said Williams, “they plan to start replacing some of the area’s old galvanized pipes, which are outdated. Some of those pipes go back nearly 50 years. That’s over and above what this new treatment plant is about.”

That support falls in line with the process that all of the involved parties went through to get to the ribbon cutting.

Brian Chemsak, BJWSA’s director of engineering, became involved in 2012 as the utility first began laying out plans, purchasing land and coming up with options.

At Saxon’s direction, Chemsak researched and initiated the process needed for the plant to earn an award from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), and became certified as an Envision Sustainable Professional. The result earned HWRF a bronze award, becoming the first Envision-verified project in the state. ISI recognizes “sustainable infrastructure across a full range of environmental, social and economic impacts,” according to its website.

Anthony Sauls, lead wastewater treatment operator, explained that everything about the facility is designed to meet the latest industry regulations and standards.

The area’s wastewater is gravity-fed in town and then pushed to the plant through about 30 pumps located around the area. One of the first processes the wastewater undergoes when it arrives at the site is to go through the headworks, which separates debris from the system.

Adjacent to the headworks is a tall cylinder colloquially called the “odor scrubber” and it does exactly that. If you did not know where you were, you would not know this was a wastewater treatment plant. No rotten-egg small here.

Every operation throughout the facility is monitored in multiple ways with sensors that detect oxygen levels, usage high and lows similar to electricity usage, and when a process stops. The operator who daily monitors two or three plants is alerted when something out of the ordinary happens.

The new facility will be able to handle future development for many years to come.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.