Small treatment plant targets businesses, communities

TRAVERSE CITY / CHARLEVOIX – The inventor of a small septage treatment plant that can be up and running within seven months of a signed contract is marketing the product to small businesses and communities.

Big Fish Environmental's "Big Fish," as the plant is trademarked, can be built on site for approximately $2 million. It's designed to treat waste from septic systems that are not hooked up to the sewer system. It aims to meet the needs of communities and private companies with an average daily flow of 20,000 gallons of septage or more.

John Campbell, inventor of Big Fish, traveled the country putting together the best technologies and people he could find until he found the right combination that worked at the right cost. He then formed a relationship with Mansfield & Associates, with offices in Traverse City and Charlevoix, to "reverse engineer" his plant into a set of plans and specifications. The plans have since been permitted, licensed, bid and are ready to be marketed across the country.

"It goes along with green building and green thoughts," said Doug Mansfield, of Mansfield & Associates.

A conscious evolution of the septage and wastewater industry is taking place partly because of already tightened Michigan legislation.

For years septage has been pumped from tanks and land applied to farmers fields without any treatment. Recent legislation in Michigan has restricted and will eventually prohibit this practice. Florida and Colorado have already set laws prohibiting the land application of human septage.

Many professionals in the industry are looking for ways to adhere to new legislation, says Mansfield, and to effectively design facilities to dispose of septage in a cost-effective manner.

"The public has a couple of options," said Chris Buday, director, Department of Public Works for Grand Traverse County. "They can build a governmental facility like we did in Grand Traverse County, or they can look at a private facility like Big Fish. Both are doing one thing in common, and that's cleaning dirty water."

Big Fish Environmental's plant in Charlevoix has been up and running since 2005.

"It's kind of the control device, or facility, to test certain new materials for processing," said John Hughes, CEO. "The raw product 'sludge,' which is normally applied to farm fields, we can take that and treat it further and make it into a pathogen-free, safe material."

Big Fish can process grease from restaurants, sludge from municipal waste water treatment facilities and portable toilet waste. Through the process, septage, grease and sludge are heated and pressed into a quality class "A" biosolid, while the water is treated and discharged from the facility. The biosolids can be marketed and sold as a fertilizer.

"Our plant can do things on a lot smaller scale which might be better for northern Michigan communities," added Hughes. "There's also a more realistic distance factor for which the trucks hauling the waste can drive."

Added Grand Traverse County's Buday: "It's good that Big Fish is out there looking at this from a private perspective. There are niches for every potential business and they just have to find their niche. I see that certain communities will look at it as a potential enterprise worthy of consideration." BN