Monday, February 14, 2011

Controversial Oconee County Sewer Line Could Become Part of Larger Sewer System

Size of Line an Issue

The possibility that the proposed Zoom Bait/St. Mary’s sewer line could become a key part of a larger North Oconee gravity fed sewer system running along McNutt Creek in the future played a major role in the decision last week of County Administrator Alan Theriault to ask for a delay in a decision on the proposed sewer project.

Theriault made the request to the Board of Commissioners at its Feb. 8 meeting after he received a request from County Utility Department Director Chris Thomas that the decision be postponed.

The BOC accepted Theriault’s and Thomas’ recommendations and is scheduled to take up the sewer project again at its March 1 meeting.

Chris Thomas

In the meantime, Thomas will review the implications for the overall cost and feasibility of the project of an email message he received from Jimmy Parker of Precision Planning Inc. of Lawrenceville suggesting that the Zoom Bait/St. Mary's sewer line be increased in size to accommodate future needs.

Specifically, Parker, who is a frequent consultant to the county on sewage and water projects, said the county should consider increasing the size of the proposed Zoom Bait/St. Mary’s sewage line from 12 to 18 inches in diameter.

If the county expands the line to 18 inches and, in the future, adds a line of the same capacity along McNutt Creek back to Jimmy Daniel Road, the county could eliminate two pump stations along existing lines, Parker said.

Those stations are used to pump sewage to the county’s Rocky Branch Road sewage treatment facility.

The county relies heavily on pump, or lift stations, which are expensive to operate and often stink.

In asking for the delay in BOC action, Thomas told Theriault in an email message late in the day on Feb. 4 that he needed more time to verify the estimates of cost savings from such a plan.

When Theriault went before the BOC on Feb. 8 recommending a postponement of action on a request that the county request bids for the Zoom Bait/St. Mary’s sewage line, he said only that a delay would allow the county more time to resolve issues about the line.

Theriault made reference to documents he had given to the BOC members justifying that decision.

I requested copies of the documents Theriault gave to the BOC. He gave them to me on Feb. 10.

Included was the correspondence from Parker to Thomas regarding the capacity of the sewer line and a map of the proposed line along McNutt Creek.

I met with Thomas on Feb. 11 to review that map and compare it with a larger map showing sewage lines throughout the county.

McNutt Creek starts in Oconee County and becomes a border with Athens-Clarke County as it flows to the Middle Oconee River.

A future sewage line, Thomas said, could incorporate parts of an existing line in the county that flows from Bogart and is partially gravity fed.

The Athens Banner-Herald mistakenly reported on Feb. 10 that the proposed Zoom Bait/St. Mary’s sewer line includes a lift station.

The proposed sewer line has been envisioned as gravity fed from its inception. Until now, however, the line has not been discussed as part of a larger sewage plan for the northern part of the county.

The Zoom Bait/St. Mary’s project was first approved by the county on May 26 of 2009. The initial cost estimate was $373,422. The cost was estimated at $773,000 last summer, based on bids that have expired.

The increase in the size of the pipe could make the cost go higher.

The project initially was presented as designed to provide sewage treatment capacity to two existing businesses, Zoom Bait and St. Mary’s Health Care System, both on Jennings Mill Road at McNutt Creek.

It subsequently was discussed, particularly by BOC Chairman Melvin Davis, as a project designed to foster development in the area behind Kohl’s and WalMart on Epps Bridge Parkway.

That shift in purpose has been controversial with the other four commissioners.