Goodwin Brothers has always been on the forefront of clean water technology and innovation, and the West Plains facility is a prime example of this. This project has a very interesting backstory, and we invite you to step back to 1974 and explore how we were literally able to take a town from sinkhole…to solution.
West Plains, Missouri, founded in 1838, was a small town of approximately 7,800 people back in 1974. With a claim to fame as the birthplace of television’s iconic Dick Van Dyke and Major League Baseball player Elwin “Preacher” Roe, West Plains was dependent on its municipal wastewater system for the health of its residents. When an unpredictable catastrophe resulted in widespread illness, emergency measures had to be taken. This is the story of the role Goodwin Brothers played in bringing a clean water solution to thousands at minimum cost and in record time.
New Plan Authorized
The city of West Plains, MO authorized facility plan preparation by Crane and Fleming of Hannibal, MO for a wastewater system.
New Facility Plan Approved
This new plan included a lagoon system with discharge to Howell Creek, a losing stream. Completion date for the facility is scheduled for July of 1978.
The Unthinkable Sinkable
On May 5, 1978, two months prior to completion, the first cell of a two-cell stabilization lagoon for treatment suffered a system failure when, due to the natural geology of Missouri, an enormous sinkhole formed and drained the lagoon. An estimated 25 million gallons of wastewater entered the subsurface water system before temporary repairs could be completed, and a widespread Public Notice was issued due to possible contamination.
The collapse was so significant that it garnered coverage in the May 21, 1978 edition of the New York Times, which reported:
WEST PLAINS, Mo., May 20 (AP)—Twenty‐five National Guard trucks delivered free tanks of fresh water today to isolated residents of this Missouri Ozarks town after its water supply was contaminated by a major sewage leak that made at least 700 people ill. Residents who had to use well water were warned to boil it first, but Mayor A. D. Pierce of nearby Thayer, Mo., said some of the people were “just too poor and too ignorant to know enough to boil water even if they hear the warning.”
Health officials said that, in addition to the 700 known to have been affected, hundreds more may have come down with intestinal illnesses from drinking contaminated water but had not sought medical help. At least 10 persons were hospitalized. The problem began when three large sinkholes developed in a West Plains sewage lagoon, allowing 25 million gallons of waste to leak into underground caverns and groundwater in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.
Back To The Drawing Board
Unfortunately, due to this situation and others like it, the use of wastewater lagoons was eliminated by regulatory agencies the same year…and 4 years after the initiation of the new facility, the entire plan had to be abandoned and a new plan to handle the wastewater for West Plains had to be thought of quickly. As stated by a West Plains City Engineer, “When the sinkhole failure occurred, it became imperative that we proceed immediately with solving the problem in a timely manner.” Crane and Fleming quickly completed a cost-effective evaluation to achieve an operable facility in the shortest time frame possible.
Goodwin Brothers Steps In
In April 1979, Goodwin Brothers is awarded the contract for Plant Construction, with a deadline in December. Due to the existing geological structure, only one area was deemed suitable for construction, and that area was still being cleaned of all the sludge created from the lagoon collapse. This delayed their ability to begin construction until June. Once the area was ready, and with the health and wellness of the entire city depending on achieving an operable facility in the shortest time frame possible, Goodwin Brothers got to work.
In December 1979, the screw pumps were activated, and the plant began receiving wastewater – 11 days ahead of deadline!
The West Plains wastewater treatment plant not only was completed within a strict time frame but was also completed well within its budget.
Completed 12 days ahead of schedule
Total project cost was less than $3.5 million ($3,500,000 in 1978 is equal $15,519,654.91 in 2022)
Qualified for extra funding EPA program to encourage innovative and alternative treatment methods.
“Due to the size of this project and the urgency, the engineering firm and the city selected a unique method in order that the project could be completed within the time schedule that was given them by the EPA, that being that the city under of the direction of the engineer on a competitive bid basis, pre-purchased all major equipment and had performance and payment bonds from each major supplier. These equipment suppliers were made a part of our contract which enabled us to have close coordination with them. We were further able to depend upon the suppliers for delivery either on or ahead of schedule allowing us to complete the project in a most expeditious manner and 11 days ahead of the 6 month completion time allowed us.”
Larry Goodwin, Goodwin Brothers Construction
Click to read the article about the West Plains Wastewater Plant project in the November 1981 Missouri Engineer magazine.