For the year, at least one of Gainesville’s own will reign as the best in the state.
Chosen by a group of its peers, Gainesville’s Lakeside Water Treatment Plant has been deemed the Plant of the Year by the Georgia Association of Water Professionals.
The statewide award, given to the year’s best operated and maintained water treatment facility that treats up to 10 million gallons of surface water each day, makes Lakeside eligible for other regional and national honors awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Although the title does not come with a tiara, flowers or scheduled appearances, it does come with a good amount of respect, said Jack Dozier, executive director of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals.
Plant operators from different water departments across the state decide which water treatment plant receives the honor based on the plant’s compliance with environmental standards, record keeping, preventative maintenance procedures, chemical handling and overall operation, Dozier said.
Because other plant operators judge the competition, the honor carries more weight than if an administrator were to hand down the crown, Dozier said.
"Since Plant of the Year is a competition against other facilities, (winners) take at least as much pride in that one as the Gold and the Platinum," an award the association gives to facilities that comply with every environmental standard every day of the year, Dozier said.
The Georgia Association of Water Professionals is a nonprofit organization made up of about 5,000 different water professionals in the state, Dozier said. The 76-year-old organization provides training for water professionals and lobbies legislators on public laws concerning water resources.
"What we’re all about is bettering the water profession to what the standards are of our ultimate goal of protecting public health and safety," Dozier said.
The city’s Public Utilities Department has been honored by the Georgia Association of Water Professionals on more than one occasion, Gainesville’s Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall said. The Riverside Water Treatment Plant received the same honor six times between 1981 and 2006, according to the department’s Web site.
"Each of our plants have actually won this award in the past," Randall said.
Still, this year is the first time the department received kudos for its Lakeside Water Treatment Plant. And to sweeten the deal, the statewide association named Lakeside’s plant manager, Scott Benefield, as Northeast Georgia’s Top Operator. The honor will make Benefield a candidate for the statewide Top Operator award.
Benefield, who once served as the plant manager for the city’s Riverside Water Treatment Plant, helped with the design of the six-year-old Lakeside plant, Randall said.
"The plant is largely his baby, too," Randall said. "When the plant opened, (Benefield) was the natural choice for being plant manager out there."
Randall said that Lakeside’s Plant of the Year award and Benefield’s leadership go hand-in-hand.
"The plant winning the award is certainly a reflection of his staff and how his staff operates," Randall said. "(Benefield) quietly goes about his business, and really has a great leadership ability. ... He’s not dictatorial, but after a while you realize you’re kind of doing it his way."
Although Benefield and "his baby" formally received the award at the association’s spring conference in April, Dozier drove to Gainesville to honor Benefield and other Lakeside plant operators in front of the Gainesville City Council last week.