Saturday, June 27, 2015

Oconee County Consultant To Give Progress Report On Cleanup Of County’s Two Sewage Treatment Facilities

Sludge Removal At LAS

Bob Sheldon, the consultant who is spearheading cleanup operations for the county’s two troubled sewage treatment facilities, is scheduled to give an update on Tuesday night on his progress so far and discuss his plans for the future.

Sheldon will provide specifics on sludge removal at the county’s Land Application System facility on Rocky Branch Road, according to the agenda released by County Clerk Jane Greathouse on Friday afternoon for Tuesday night’s Board of Commissioners meeting.

In a report given to the Commissioners on May 19, Sheldon said two of the four ponds used to treat waste at the plant had excessive solids at the bottom and recommended that a contractor be hired to remove and “dewater’ the solids.

Also on Tuesday, the Board is to discuss a possible transportation study for the SR 316 and Epps Bridge Parkway corridor–a precursor to continued discussion of the Daniells Bridge Road extension and flyover of SR Loop 10.

Limited Information

Tuesday’s presentation by Sheldon, from Dacula, will be the first discussion in public of the problems at the county two waste treatment sites since BOC Chairman Melvin Davis announced at the Commission meeting on May 26 that there had been an “issue” at the Calls Creek sewage plant.

Sheldon’s report, which the county released after the meeting, presented a very critical view of operation of both treatment facilities, saying solids were not being handled properly at either plant. It called the condition at Calls Creek “critical.”

LAS Site On Rocky Branch Road

Blake Giles, editor of The Oconee Enterprise, reported in the paper’s June 11 edition that the county had “proposed” weekly meetings with the paper as part of its “damage control” after Mark Thomas acknowledged that he had tipped the county in late April to serious problems at the plant.

Thomas, who is a member of the Oconee County Board of Education and serves on the county’s Industrial Development Authority, gave BOC Chairman Davis videos that seem to show discharge of minimally treated sewage water into Calls Creek just upstream from property Thomas owns with his brother.

Weekly Briefing Of Editor

Giles reported information given him by Davis and county Administrative Officer Jeff Benko at the June 8 briefing in the June 11 paper. Much of that information focused on the possibility that Utility Department Director Chris Thomas might resign.

Chris Thomas, who is no relation to BOE member Mark Thomas, handed in his resignation on June 8, though Giles did not report learning that at the meeting with Davis and Benko.

Giles wrote in the June 18 edition of the paper that Davis told him in the June 15 briefing that there “was not much new to report” regarding the problems at the plants.

Giles reported in this week’s edition (June 25) that Davis has told him in the June 22 briefing that testing of the discharge from the county’s plants was now being done by labs at the University of Georgia.

Who’s In Charge

In the county’s organizational chart, the Utility Department director reports to Administrative Officer Benko,.

Benko told me in an email message on June 10 that he would be in charge of the Utility Department until the Board of Commissioners appointed a new director.

Address On Rocky Branch Road

Davis, in his regular column in the June 11 edition of the Enterprise, used the first person plural to describe actions on the part of the county in response to what he calls “dirty discharge” from the Calls Creek plant.

“We hired” consultant Sheldon, Davis wrote, and “we have advertised” to find people to replace the wasterwater supervisor and maintenance supervisor, who resigned in the wake of the problems at the plants.

“What occurred at the Calls Creek palnt was unfortunate–but it happened,” Davis wrote. “Steps have been taken to correct the problem.”

The column also appears on the county web site.

Sludge Removal Proposals

The agenda page for the meeting on Tuesday contains no information about Sheldon’s report–or about much of anything else to be discussed at the Tuesday meeting. Usually, the page links to relevant documents distributed to the Commission members.

The web site gives no indication what Sheldon will propose for the LAS site or how much it will cost.

On May 27, Ed Norfleet, president of Allied Environmental Services in Alpharetta, sent then Utility Department Director Thomas an email regarding sludge in the lagoons at the Rocky Branch LAS.

He offered two different strategies, “one that is faster and much more expensive and one that is slower but will save the county a substantial amount of money.”

Expense And Time

The more expensive way to handle the sludge buildup would be to bring in the necessary pumps, dewatering presses and trucks, Norfleet said. The sludge would be dewatered and taken to the landfill.

“This project will be very expensive based on the amount of material you have to dispose of,” Norfleet wrote.

The second option would be to apply the sludge as a liquid. “The approach reduces amount of equipment required as well as the landfill fees which saves the county a substantial amount of money,” Norfleet wrote.

It would take about three months to get the necessary permit to use this second method, he said.

Replacement Plant

I obtained the email from Norfleet to Chris Thomas through an open records request I filed with the county.

Included in the materials I received was an email message from Chris Thomas to Benko on Oct. 31, 2014. Benko distributed the email from Chris Thomas to Davis and the four voting commissioners that same day.

Thomas told Benko that an attempt to find a replacement plant for the Calls Creek wastewater treatment facility had fallen through.

“One of the reasons for needing to upgrade so quickly was the degraded performance of our existing membranes,” Thomas said in the email.

Membrane Filtration

The Calls Creek plant uses a membrane filtration system to clean the water.

Thomas said in that October of 2014 email that the good news was that he had found a way to clean and extend the life of the membranes, probably for two to five years.

In the meantime, the county has found another used replacement plant that it wants to bring to the Calls Creek site.

The BOC approved $2.3 million for purchase of that used plant on May 5, but it has not yet approved the final contract for its purchase.

Reassembly and permitting for the plant will take about 18 months, Chris Thomas has told me in May.

The contract does not appear on the BOC agenda for Tuesday.

Daniells Bridge Road

Chairman Davis, who has been a champion of the Daniells Bridge Road extension and flyover of SR Loop 10, told the BOC at its meeting on June 2 that he wanted to launch a study of traffic in the Epps Bridge Parkway corridor.

Such a study would allow for reconsideration of the extension and flyover, which the Board of Commissioners had rejected in a 3-1 vote on April 7.

The agenda for Tuesday’s meeting says that County Public Works Director Emil Beshara will lead the discussion of the transportation study.

Davis indicated at the June 2 meeting that he thought there might be state funding for such a study.

The BOC meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

NOTE: On the morning of 6/29/2015 the county added information to its web site on three bids received for dredging the ponds at the Rocky Branch LAS. They range from $298,500 to $388,900. Norfleet's Allied Environmental Services had the middle bid of $347,900. Additional information also was added on other issues before the commissioners at the June 30 meeting.


Anonymous said...

These are two very critical issues for the county. It is a shame that the meeting they are being discussed is the week of the Fourth of July, when many people will be on vacation.

Anonymous said...

So Thomas notified Benko last fall about various issues, and Benko passed it onto the Melvin and the commissioners??!!

They knew about it for months...and did NOTHING until raw sewage leaked into our creeks.

Frankly, Melvin and commissioners have violated our trust. Raw sewage in our streams, and Melvin calls it an "issue". My children play in a friend's backyard creek, Calls Creek!

Melvin and the commissioners seem content to let this die down until the public forgets. My family and friends will not conveniently forget. Melvin's already moved on with trying to spend millions upon millions of county taxpayer money for a flyover bridge which mostly benefits Frank Bishop and Jamie Boswell.

We can do better than the current leadership we have now, much better.

Beanne said...

I agree. Melvin Davis does not seem to realize that you need to maintain infrastructure for all that development he loves. We had some good candidates run last time, but most citizens stay with the status quo. I hope these issues may wake some up.

Anonymous said...

Interesting tidbit: There have been right around 52 county commissioners in the county's history. 3 women. No persons of color. 49 middle-aged & senior citizen Caucasian male commissioners.

The county is approx. 52% female, and 70% of the population is 49 or under. Yet the current commissioners and almost all previous commissioners have been overwhelming white male over 50.

Lack of diversity leads to group think, malaise, lack of innovation, close ties to preferred businesses, sweetheart deals, the same old crowd serving on advisory boards, etc., etc. Even raw sewage in the county watershed and other clean water issues the elected commissioners knew about for months without notifying the public.

We can do better y'all. Much better.

Xardox said...

Calls Creek is down the hill from my back yard. It smells.
So they spend more time talking about the persons "responsible" than what to do about it. Figures.
Oh, well, on to North Oconee "development" and its tax base.
More money to spend, y'know.