Williamston planning to address sewer system problems

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Town under DHEC consent order

By Stan Welch – The focal point of the Williamston Town Council’s work session Tuesday night was the imposing of a consent order by DHEC, as a result of problems with the town’s wastewater treatment system.

Those problems extend well back into the last decade or more. In fact, the town was released from a previous consent order as recently as October of 2014. The respite was brief, with the occurrence of a sewage overflow from a manhole, as the result of heavy rainfall (two inches)in a relatively brief period in early February. Obstruction of the line by tree roots was also deemed a contributing factor.

Consequently, DHEC issued a notice of violation based on a series of reports in late 2015 which reflected daily violations of fecal coliform levels at the treatment plant, which were also the result of heavy rainfalls. The chronic problem is the condition of the town’s sewer lines, which are outdated and which are subject to inflow and infiltration (I&I) during rain events. The I&I lets storm water enter the lines and flow through the treatment plant, reducing its effectiveness and leading to violations of the standards set by DHEC.

On June 26, the Town received the consent order informing them of the conditions that will have to be met before the order is vacated. Those conditions include a number of requirements, such as timely reporting of any further events, the production of a financial plan showing how the wastewater collection system would be financed and operated, a sewer inspection and cleaning program, manhole inspections, a sewer use and grease ordinance among others.

A fine of $7200 was also imposed.

Mayor Durham said that DHEC had agreed to allow the town to use consultants and contractors to conduct the audit of the town’s wastewater system who are not required to be certified at the highest levels. “This will make that survey much less expensive to conduct, which is of course, a bonus for us,” Durham said.

Durham pointed to the silver lining in being under a consent order once again. “The town has historically been focused on the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach. But this is really the next big step we need to take to keep the town moving forward. The wastewater infrastructure has to be upgraded, and this consent order certainly will force us to address the problem. Instead of reacting to problems, we are planning for the future.”

One major aspect of the plan will involve the use of a camera in the lines to identify problem areas and the subsequent clearing of block lines and replacement of damaged lines. Durham raised the possibility of either contracting out the camera inspection, or the alternative of hiring a couple of extra people and purchasing the equipment themselves.

Councilman Rockey Burgess stated his opinion that contracting the work would probably result in better focus and efficiency in the task. “If we hire our own people, they will get distracted and assigned to other tasks and just not be as focused on getting this task done. I just think the private sector will do it quicker and probably cheaper.” Durham agreed that the point was a valid one.

He also announced that work had begun that very day on the Pinecrest project, which will also play a role in addressing some of those I&I issues.

“We learned that CDBG grant funds can not be used for that project,” Durham said. “But we also learned that other funding sources are available, and that, ironically, being under a consent order increases the chances of receiving that funding.”

On the other side of the water/sewer infrastructure question, he announced that the Town has received approval for a $1.57 million low interest loan to be used in installing a drive by meter reading system. The rate of interest for the 20 year loan is 2.25 %. The Town was required to earmark a $1 million for the water system capital improvement plan. The step was necessary because the lending authorities said the town had too much money in savings to qualify for the loan.