What makes Fairfield "work" as a public place?

A big part of the answer to that question is supplied every day by the staff and equipment of the town's Department of Public Works. And to give the public a better idea of what the DPW does to keep municipal operations humming, the agency hosted an open house Saturday at its headquarters and several installations that it manages.

The tours, organized by DPW officials and members of the Representative Town Meeting's Public Works and Planning Committee, led visitors through the water-pollution control plant, public works garage, the trash transfer station and the Greencyle recycling center.

Mike Finoia, the water-pollution plant superintendent, said tours of the plant usually are only conducted for school groups. "This is the first time we're opening up our plant to the wider public," he said. "We want to give people a better understanding of what goes on here. People drive by every Saturday to go to the transfer station and this will give them an idea of what happens when water comes through here."

Danielle Gayda, a chemist at the pant, explained, "We treat all the waste water that comes through the collection systems. On average, that's 9 million gallons per day. The plant was built in 1953, upgraded in 1973 and most recently updated in 2003. We operate according to a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit, which spells out state and federal control requirements."

Gayda said the town's sewage-management system is comprehensive, using both chemistry and biology, as well as machinery and equipment, to process the water and solids. "For most people, all this is behind the scenes, which is where it should be," she said. "If we're hearing from people, there's a problem. If people don't know you're here, we're doing our job."

Gayda noted that the biggest foe to the plant's efficient operation is Mother Nature. "Superstorm Sandy was one of the most challenging events for us," she said of last October's storm that wreaked havoc along Fairfield's shoreline. "Surges were our biggest problem, infiltrating our system with salt water and affecting the outfall that goes out into the Sound. It's difficult to pump out discharge when the ocean is at your doorstep. And heavy rains can double or triple our flows."

Fairfield, Finoia noted, has 205 miles of sewers, eight pump stations and they all feed into three main trunk lines.

At the Greencycle area, Public Works Superintendent Scott Bartlett explained, "This is basically where all the earth materials come in. It's a cooperative effort, self-supporting. With storms like Sandy, we brought in a lot of brush. Greencycle grinds everything up and resells it to landscapers and homeowners. Costs to run the facility are minimal to the town."

At the transfer station, Solid Waste Management Director Mike Zembruski said the town recently entered into a new contract with a single-stream recycling facility, which will increase the volume of recyclables that will be processed as well as generate more revenue. "Eventually, we'd like to add a paint disposal component on the site, which will save the town $42 a household," he said.

DPW Director Joe Michelangelo has high hopes for the asphalt recycling area. "We want to make this an efficient processing area like Greencycle, to reduce the amount of debris and re-use materials," he said.

"We have 29 trucks in our fleet," Bartlett said of the aging DPW fleet. "The newest is 5 years old, but many are around 30 years old. The body on one truck is 45 years old. We understand the economy, but we need to keep a certain level of maintenance on the equipment."

Kaz Sikora and his son Liam, 4, of Fairfield, enjoyed the DPW tour. "Liam loves the DPW and their trucks," he said. "With our recent storms, he got to know a lot of the guys, even by name. We come every other Saturday to this site to see things in operation."