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Setting a trend
GMA honors Richmond Hill for waste treatment plant
RH Trendsetter Award 2
Members of Richmond Hill's government traveled to Atlanta on Sunday to receive the Trendsetter Award from the Georgia Municipal Association and Georgia Trend magazine. - photo by Photo provided.
The city of Richmond Hill has been given the “Trendsetter Award” by the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) and Georgia Trend Magazine.
They were recognized in the area of public works for a population less than 10,000.
GMA and Georgia Trend focused strongly on the unique public-private wastewater treatment facility as a deciding factor in Richmond Hill being granted the award.
Richmond Hill Mayor Richard Davis, city manager Mike Melton, public works director Rick Lauver and Richmond Hill CH2M Hill OMI Regional Director of Operations John Beall traveled to Atlanta on Sunday for the formal presentation of the award.
“We’re certainly honored and excited that the esteemed members of the GMA and Georgia Trend Magazine have recognized Richmond Hill for our achievements in wastewater treatment,” Melton said.
Melton added that, historically, the Trendsetter awards are given to municipalities that are ahead of their time in many aspects, and it reflects the hard work and vision of the city employees. He also said that the GMA and Georgia Trend have pointed out the innovative public-private working relationship the city formed with Operation Management International (OMI) to get the wastewater facility off the ground was a major contributing factor in being given the award.
Mayor Davis also expressed his excitement over receiving the award. He jokingly said the city would have gotten the award for this back in 1996 when the facility was created, but the award did not exist back then. He recognized OMI and city employees for their ongoing innovative efforts, and said that the city would be applying for the parks and recreation award next year for J.F. Gregory Park.
“The Trendsetter Awards are designed to recognize and encourage innovation and excellence in city government projects that …well …set trends,” said GMA Vice President Jay Powell. “They are unique, they add long-term value to the community, and the projects are also adaptable for other cities.”
“An independent panel of judges reviewed entries from small, medium and large cities and selected winners who demonstrate innovation, enhanced services and improved quality of life,” Powell said of the selection process.
“The city is committed to improving and maintaining the quality of life by preserving natural resources and providing superior services,” said Richmond Hill Community Development Specialist Jan Bass. 
Bass went on to explain the many advantages that have manifested through the unique public-private partnership. “OMI is one of the nation’s leading private operators of water and wastewater systems.  The employee-owned company enables the city to access more than 7,500 technical experts. It has been very successful for the city.  In the first year alone, the city was able to save more than $100,000.”
The partnership has created educational opportunities for schools, research projects for universities and an example to other municipalities interested in creating a constructed wetlands facility. In addition, it has spurred an ongoing water conservation program.
OMI was also recognized by the Georgia Water and Pollution Control Association and was awarded the Public Education Award in 2004 for their ongoing efforts at the treatment facility. 
In 1996, Richmond Hill chose to replace the original mechanical treatment facility, rather than upgrade it. It was decided that a constructed wetlands wastewater treatment facility was a low cost and simple alternative. The city invested $6 million in a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility. Constructed wetlands are manmade sewage lagoons that imitate natural wetlands by filtering sewage with native plants, microorganisms and other natural processes. This overland-based process enables the city to maintain its natural coastal beauty while facilitating the expansion capabilities for the city.  This all-natural facility attracts a variety of wildlife and is a popular site for avid bird watchers and wildlife viewing.  This 500-acre facility has been designated a wildlife sanctuary by the city council. 
“As a small coastal community, it is important to retain natural beauty,” said Bass. “Many wastewater treatment facilities can be an eyesore on an otherwise beautiful coastline. Richmond Hill maintains the 500-acre facility as not only a treatment facility, but also as well as a wildlife sanctuary. We believe it is a matter of caring for the environment.”
The wastewater treatment facility services more than 10,000 residents and collects sewage over an area of 15 square miles. The facility processes an average of 1 million gallons per day.
Georgia Trend magazine will spotlight the winning cities in its upcoming February issue. The other “Trendsetter Award” winners in the area of public works were Roswell and Valdosta while Suwanee, Thomasville and Augusta won the awards for the area of parks and recreation.
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