- 2014 - June - 18th -

Things that have made it down the drain: false teeth, an artificial eye and a bowling ball

  • Casey Nettles is manager of JEA’s Buckman Wastewater Treatment Facility off Talleyrand Avenue. Not only does the plant clean wastewater, it also turns the byproduct into fertilizer pellets (which he’s holding) that a company buys to sell to the public. The income to JEA offsets some of the facility’s expenses.

  • This beaker of effluent serves as a test for water later in the cleaning process. In an hour span, the heavier organics should settle while cleaner water rises. The tests are done throughout the day.

  • JEA’s Buckman Wastewater Treatment Facility is the largest in the area, handling Downtown, Riverside, Northwest Jacksonville, parts of the Westside and more. Other facilities include those on the Northside, Arlington and Mandarin.

  • The last visible stage. After going through several steps to ensure quality and cleanliness, the effluent flows back to the St. Johns River.

  • When wastewater initially comes to the facility, it is run through a series of bars that collect larger materials. One of the main offenders? Disinfecting and baby wipes. “Everyone thinks you can flush those,” Nettles says. “Don’t flush those.”

  • A gift for his young daughter years ago, this Elmo doll broke “within seconds,” he said. So, Nettles took it to work for repair and it’s served as sort of a mascot in his office ever since.

  • This tower is effectively a giant air freshener. There are several biological odor control towers at the Talleyrand facility to serve as a means of keeping smells under wraps.

  • Potty humor: A gift from Nettles’ wife shows the distinctiveness of his job. It serves as a tape dispenser, a business card holder and pencil holder (in the mouth).

  • Some people might say Casey Nettles has a dirty job. Some might say it downright stinks. The JEA manager oversees operations at the Buckman Wastewater Treatment Facility, the largest such in the area. It’s an important, complex job with challenges every day that Nettles says he enjoys tackling.

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

Down the sink and the water is gone. Toilets, washing machines and bathtubs, too.

Most people probably don’t stop to consider what happens after their used, dirty water leaves their sight.

Casey Nettles and the 35 or so workers at the Talleyrand Wastewater Treatment Facility think about it, though. It’s their job to ensure it’s cleaned, re-cleaned and safe to place into the St. Johns River. The largest wastewater treatment facility in the area has water flowing its way 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

“The flow of the water never stops,” said Nettles, the manager of the facility.

Years ago, not as much attention was paid to wastewater. After a onceover, it went to the river.

Later came chemicals, mainly chlorine, used to better treat the effluent.

Those were phased out more than a decade ago in favor of more natural cleaning methods, such as bacteria and ultraviolet lights used today.

The steps through which water enters the plant before leaving resembles an obstacle course.

First, it’s the large debris that’s captured. Children’s toys, a rubber snake, toys, false teeth, even an artificial eye, which is what Nettles says is the strangest item that’s come through in his time there. That also includes the time a bowling ball showed up. How did it fit?

“That’s a good question,” he said, with a laugh.

And it’s not just using a net or adding a dose of a formula to make the rest magically cleaner. There’s the need to remove sand followed by a series of chambers that introduce bacteria and oxygen to help the cleaning process, before ultimately ending up filtering through 4,000-watt ultraviolet bulbs.

In addition to wastewater treatment, there’s also a biosolids facility that uses byproduct, affectionately called sludge, to create fertilizer sold to a company. The fertilizer pellets are created on-site and the revenue helps offset Buckman’s expenses, which can be massive. Nettles estimates it’s about $1 million annually in electric costs.

Born and raised in the Space Coast area of Florida, Nettles moved to Jacksonville for a position with JEA and worked his way up to the management position he currently holds. And while some might cringe at the concept or the idea of the smell, working at a facility like Buckman is something Nettles says he always wanted to do because of the importance of the job.

“Every day is something new … you have to stay on your toes,” he said.

Especially when people dump potentially toxic materials, like 55 gallons of industrial detergent as someone did years ago did. Nettles said the result was the facility turning into “a giant bubble bath.”

“Buckman Street is one of a kind,” he said.



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