The RBC Building, Manistique, Mi., is behind the white vehicle.
The first three images show all that is left of 12 original rotating
biological contactors, RBCs, tank by tank, in the sewage treatment plant at Manistique, Michigan.
The first image shows the only functional RBC assembly that remains intact, after 21 years of
RBC operation starting in 1979. The last failure occurred in April, 2000. At $100,000 each,
trash is all what is left from the $1.2 million RBC investment.
The building in photograph 4, and the RBC tanks it houses, is basically
sound and might stay that way if the roof is repaired in time and heat and ventilation is
maintained. No funding of cleanup, repair and development has been considered, to the best of
my knowledge. It is evidence of a disposable economy, for a poor town of less than 4000
population, that may lay claim to one of the highest combined water and sewer rates in this
region of the country.
The only RBC assembly left intact after 21 years. It is useless, lying inoperative in
an empty tank, waiting for the cutting torch to reduce it to scrap to be hauled off with the
remains of the other broken units.
This picture of the center tank is testimony to one of the repair attempts
that failed. You can see the "swayback" appearance of the RBC unit in the background that testifies
to the broken shaft. The various empty sections of each tank housed a functioning RBC
assembly before failure and removal.
This oblique shot of the third tank shows, again, broken RBC assemblies
with the typical "swayback" appearance that attends broken shafts.
The RBC building.
This picture is across the width of the RBC building, providing a little
more perspective to the overall design philosophy and the condition of the building.
The "splint" attempt to repair an RBC shaft. A number of these efforts were made.
It should be noted that in April of 1980 the wastewater plant in Marquette
started "official" operation of its 30 RBC plant, a consequence of a mandated upgrade and
expansion, similar to Manistique's. To date, there have been no RBC shaft failures. The lack
of failures could be due to differences in design of the RBCs, differences in manufacturing
processes, differences in engineering choices, differences in the method of drive, differences
in instrumentation, or differences in plant operations. The failures may be due to a
combination of any and all or may be due to causes not listed or considered here.
To the best of my knowledge, no definitive causes of the failures of Manistique's RBCs were
identified and publicized, over the years, other than "manufacturing and design" defects. I do
know that, from my own personal inquiries and statements made by City employees at City Council
meetings, for most of the short and unhappy life of the RBCs, no instrumentation was used to
monitor media loading of the RBC shafts. The lack of RBC drive shutoff when the loading
exceeded "designed" stress limits of the RBC shafts would result in continual stresses to
accelerate shaft failure.
Whether politics, ignorance, stupidity, poor engineering practices, poor operational and
maintenance procedures, inferior product, any, all or none of the above; the consequence is a
pile of trash, similar in effect to the failure of Manistique's
water tower, documented elsewhere on this site.
WHY? FOR OPENERS... A PERSONAL VIEW:
If greater success was achieved to identify and eliminate causes that result in major failures
of Manistique infrastructure investments, if new major projects and upgrades were designed for
longevity instead of 20 year replacement cycles, if the funding of appropriate operational and
maintenance procedures took precedence over new esthetic projects, if Manistique City Council
based more decisions on research and standards set elsewhere in the country rather than personal
whim based on local ignorance, if Manistique City employees were held accountable for lying,
incompetence, substance abuse, theft, misuse of public property, malingering, etc., if the
Manistique electorate fielded candidates interested in the welfare of the City of Manistique
and its residents instead of personal gain, political goals and social stature, if Manistique
and Schoolcraft County businesses and political organizations promoted competent personnel and
sound ideas more consistent with a pauper's wallet than a millonaire's dreams, if "the public"
was viewed as the standard of local government value rather than a "prey" resource for minority
aspirations, if "creative accounting" wasn't a given, if "dirty laundry" wasn't hidden, if, if ...
...then, among the myriad current ills of the City of Manistique there might be some reason to
believe in a foreseeable decline in water and sewer rates and a better value received, overall,
for Manistique tax dollars.