Fulfilling a Dream

When Tom and Jane Tschannen started their business in Lowell, Michigan, they owned one pumper truck that Tom drove. As the business grew to include pumping, excavating, portable toilets and drain cleaning, their disposal needs grew as well. Unfortunately, the nearest treatment plant that would accept the waste was an hour away and there is only so much land that you can use.

When Tom and Jane Tschannen started their business in Lowell, Michigan, they owned one pumper truck that Tom drove. As the business grew to include pumping, excavating, portable toilets and drain cleaning, their disposal needs grew as well. Unfortunately, the nearest treatment plant that would accept the waste was an hour away and there is only so much land that you can use.

Tom dreamed of one day opening up his own dewatering plant to combat the inconvenience and loss of money. Over the years, Tom researched dewatering treatment plants and discovered that with their own plant, they wouldn’t have to wait on trucks to get back from the plant, or have their capital tied up in additional trucks. They also wouldn’t have to pay the gas for the two-hour round trip in addition to the disposal fees.

But Tom fell sick. After he passed away in January 2011, Jane decided to make Tom’s dream a reality. In May 2013, Stoneybrook Sanitation Dewatering Facility was opened.

Choosing a Contractor

Jane decided to work with Therese Wheaton, owner of Crystal Environmental.

“My husband had been working with Therese for about 10 years,” says Jane. “In going through his files, it always came back to Therese—he liked her, and he liked her product. It was always clear how much Tom admired Therese as a collegue and a friend. So I decided to continue on with her.

Building the Dream

“One of the main reasons for building the plant was to get off the land,” says Jane. “Tom and I had talked about building this type of facility because land disposal is the hardest part of the business and there are several times during the year that you can’t get on the land. Our closest treatment plant is cost-prohibitive, so the next one was an hour away. We want to be at a point where we are responsible for our own waste and not dependent on others. It doesn’t matter how many gallons per year you pump; if you don’t have a way to get rid of it you don’t have a business.

“With having the plant, we can do more work in less time. We don’t have storage tanks, which caused us to wait for the big tanker truck to return from the plant.
“It took two years to create the plans, obtain the financing, get the equipment and construction.”

At Stoneybrook Sanitation, they only process residential waste. So, they built the plant to suit their needs. The trucks offload and it immediately goes into two Bucks Manufacturing grit boxes. From there, it goes into two 25,000-gallon mixing tanks that are underground before it goes into a Berger grinder pump. Then polymer gets added before it goes into the Bucks dewatering tanks where it sits overnight for the water to filter out which goes to the city wastewater. The solid cake goes to
the landfill.

“A lot of people have a belt press, but because of the cost, our volume doesn’t warrant a belt press operation.”

Financing the Dream

“We’re septic pumpers,” says Jane. “Our industry is primarily made up of a lot of mom and pops, then sons take over. Well, we had daughters. For me, I lucked out and as a woman business owner you qualify for different business loans. The Michigan lending industry is very accommodating to women and this type of business.”
With two drivers pumping more than 4 million gallons of septage per year, the plant makes financial sense. “It was a financial leap of faith, but was worth the risk.”

Currently, the money they are saving by not hauling the waste and paying to dispose of it is decreasing the cost of opening the plant. Eventually, Jane plans to open it up to other haulers and start using the plant to earn an income. But, right now they are only licensed to process their own septage. “When you start taking waste from other haulers, even though there is a log saying where it came from, it is a leap of faith that what they are giving you is what they say it is. If you end up getting a bad load, then it could mess up the entire system. Right now, I am happy to process our own waste and not have to worry about it. Slowly but surely, the plant will generate money—we are definitely headed in the right direction.

“ROI will be within a couple of years. We started saving money immediately. The treatment plant charged us 4.5 cents a gallon, plus expense of tanker, gas, etc. Now it costs 2-3 cents to
dispose of it and there are still some ways we are looking at fine tuning costs.

“Disposal at the landfill is the biggest expense we have now. So, we are looking at ways to save in that area as well. We are looking at purchasing our own roll off truck and not be dependent on a waste hauler to take solids away. It will be quite a bit of savings and allow us to hire another driver and expand the pumping end of our business.”

Running It

“The plant is working very well,” says Jane. “As with anything, there were glitches but we are processing between 20,000-30,000 gallons a day. The effluent water that we are sending to the city is meeting all of their standards and it has really been cost effective.

“If I were to do it over again, I would have representatives from James Way and Berger present. However, we had great help from Therese and John McDonnell from Mineral Masters (polymer).
“We have a full-time operator that controls the plant. He adds in the polymer which varies depending on type of waste.”

Advice

“Do your research and really work with your local treatment plant,” says Jane. “I would research your finances and make sure you know what it will cost. Right now, I don’t have hauling expenses to the treatment plant, but I do have polymer expense, landfill fees, city fees, etc.

“Building the plant was a way to secure the future for my business. Michigan is losing pumpers because it’s too expensive to haul to a treatment plant that will accept it. I know in some places, they charge as much as 21 cents a gallon. Even though the Muskegon plant that we discharged to only charges 4 cents, it’s their prerogative as to what they charge.
“With the plant, I will be able to grow my business and expand because I can pump more gallons per year with our new processing capability. It will eventually be another source of revenue when I can accept waste from other haulers.”

Story by Jennifer Taylor

RESOURCES

For More Information, visit:
■ Stoneybrook Sanitation: www.fullersepticservice.com
■ Berger: www.ibs-ppg.com
■ Bucks Fabricating: www.bucksfab.com

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