Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Consultant Tells Oconee County Commissioners Sewer Problems Under Control, But Money Needed

Sludge In Ponds

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners agreed to spend nearly $300,000 last night to remove solids that have built up on the bottoms of the ponds at the Rocky Branch Land Application System sewage treatment facility.

Consultant Bob Sheldon told the Board that, as far as he knew, solids had never been removed from the ponds at the LAS site, which opened in 2002.

Sheldon reported that all of the equipment at the LAS site and at the Calls Creek wastewater treatment plant is once again operating fully and that steps are being taken to get the maintenance schedules and record keeping in order.

The Commission last night also agreed to go forward with a transportation study of the SR 316 and Epps Bridge Parkway corridor but not to move forward on the widening of Jimmy Daniell Road pending receipt from the state of information about the participation of Athens-Clarke County in the project.

Commissioners also voted to refinance $8.1 million in debt on the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir project at a savings of nearly $1 million.

First Appearance

Sheldon’s appearance was his first public one since the county hired him at the beginning of May to deal with major problems at the county’s two wastewater treatment facilities.

Sheldon went out of his way last night to praise the staff of the Utility Department, which he said, in the video below, had been very helpful in making the needed changes at the plants.

OCO: Sheldon On Staff from Lee Becker on Vimeo

On May 19 Sheldon provided the county with a report that said both plants were improperly handing the solids produced by the treatment process. He termed the problems at Calls Creek “critical.”

At the Calls Creek plant, which is just north of Watkinsville, two 12-foot deep clarifiers had sludge levels of nine to 10 feet. Sludge levels of three to four feet would have been proper, the report said.

A belt press, used to extract liquids from the solids, was not operating, according to the report.

Ponds At LAS

The LAS site is on 247 acres off Rocky Branch Road just north of North Oconee High School.

The county began construction on the site in 2001 but leased the land until 2003, when it was purchased.

The facility consists of four heavily lined ponds or lagoons, with water flowing from the first to the third by gravity as solids settle out.

From the third pond, water is sprayed onto hayfields on the site.

A fourth pond is used for storage in times when sprayed water would not be absorbed into the fields because of rainfall.

In the aerial view LINKED HERE a fifth pond that is not part of the sewage treatment operation also is visible. (See map below.)

Ponds A-D

The smallest of the ponds (with three aerators in the linked image) is referred to as Pond A.

The pond to the north (with one aerator visible in the image) is Pond B.

Sheldon told the commissioners in his May report that the pond was only 10-feet-deep and has solid in the bottom seven or eight feet.

The most northern of the ponds in the image is Pond C, which has solids in the bottom three feet.

The largest pond, called Pond D, is the one used for storage.

Cleaning Operation

The commissioners last night accepted in rough terms a bid of $298,500 from PSC Jesco Industrial Services from Calvert City, Ky., for cleaning of the ponds.

The company was low bidder among the three that submitted estimates.

Sheldon said the company would bring in a barge with a boom to get into the water and pull the solids out of the pond and then use a belt press to get the water out of the solids.

Those solids must then be hauled to an approved landfill. The bid includes $72,000 in sludge disposal costs.

County Attorney Daniel Haygood is to draw up a contract for the work for approval of the BOC.

Normal Cleaning Time

Sheldon said he would recommend cleaning the ponds every five to eight years in the future.

County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko is in charge of the Utility Department at present, following the resignation of Utility Department Chris Thomas on June 8.

Nothing was said last night about steps being taken to replace Thomas, and the county has released little information about the problems with sewage plant operations since Board of Education member Mark Thomas revealed the problem at the Calls Creek plant at the end April.

The public was not given a chance last night to ask questions about Sheldon’s report, the operation of the Utility Department, or the past problems at the sewage plants.

Transportation Study

Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis proposed to the Board at its meeting on June 2 that it launch a study of SR 316 from the Barrow County line to its intersection with SR Loop 10 and of Epps Bridge Parkway from the Loop to the Athens-Clarke County line.

Davis has been unsuccessful in getting the majority of the Board to support his pleas to begin design work on an extension of Daniells Bridge Road with a flyover of SR Loop 10, and a transportation study would be a way for him to bring that topic back to the table.

Emil Beshara, county public works director, told the Board last night that the state already has studied the corridor in 2002 and 2009, though he conceded a study exclusively of Oconee County could be of some value.

He suggested that the county ask the Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study (MACORTS), which is the regional transportation planning body, to conduct that study.

The commissioners agreed to make a request of MACORTS for the study.

Jimmy Daniell

Beshara told the Board last night that GDOT had asked the county to move forward on the widening of Jimmy Daniell Road.

The BOC approved a $22 million project framework agreement with the Georgia Department of Transportation for the project in November.

The document states that the project involves both Clarke and Oconee counties, since the road runs from SR 316 in Oconee County to the Atlanta Highway in Athens-Clarke County.

Beshara said he learned that GDOT had not sent a project framework agreement to Athens-Clarke County, making it impossible for Oconee County to begin working on the project.

Other Issues

Beshara also said there were a variety of issues Oconee County needed to address before it spent any money on the project.

Included is a decision about how the county wants the area along the roadway to develop. At present, it is largely residential.

It also wouldn’t make much sense for the county to spend a lot of money on Jimmy Daniell Road without knowing what the state plans to do with the interchange of that roadway with SR 316.

None of these issues had been discussed back in November, when the Board, under pressure from Davis and GDOT, approved the project framework agreement.

The video below is of the discussion last night of the Jimmy Daniell Road project.

OCO: Beshara on Jimmy Daniell from Lee Becker on Vimeo

Hard Labor Creek

The Board last night voted to refinance $8.1 million of its debt for the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir in southeast Walton County, resulting in a savings of $995,000.

In 2008 the county sold $19.5 million in bonds as part of its initial share in the expenses of Hard Labor Creek Reservoir.

The two counties are sharing the costs of the $85 million project. That figure does not include construction of a treatment plant or distribution facilities for the treated water.

The counties also have received loans from the state for the project.

The reservoir is expected to fill by 2017.

Employee Classification

Chairman Davis has been pushing for a study of the county’s employee pay classification system, and he did so again last night.

Commissioners John Daniell and Jim Luke have been reluctant to invest money in the study, saying they are not sure of its goals or value.

Commissioner Mark Saxon expressed some interest in the study, and Davis asked that it be put on the agenda for further discussion at the meeting on July 7.

Sheldon Video

The full video of Sheldon’s appearance at the meeting last night is below.

OCO: Sheldon On Sewers from Lee Becker on Vimeo

Bing Embedded Map

The Bing map below is the street view of the LAS site.

Click View Larger Map and then shift to the bird's eye view via the tab at top to see the aerial view of the LAS site.

Click outside the label box to remove it


Xardox said...

A few million here, a few million there, and studies galore,
and pretty soon we're talking about real money.
Meanwhile, property tax notices go out in a couple of month.
Bet they don't go down any what with all that money to spend.

Anonymous said...

"Consultant Bob Sheldon told the Board that, as far as he knew, solids had never been removed from the ponds at the LAS site, which opened in 2002."

Melvin, how long have you been commissioner? Haven't been removed since 2002???

You are out of your league. Hire a competent county administrator, and stick to normal commissioner duties: drafting policies, setting long goals, strategies for economic development, etc.

You are in no way qualified to manage day to day operations. Raw sewage in Calls Creek, not emptying these ponds in over ten years, etc. are just the latest of many examples of the need to remove yourself from operations.

To the other four commissioners: Please, please start stepping up and performing your duties. Why do you consistently acquiesce to Melvin's power trips? Checks and balances, people...and transparency too!

Anonymous said...

@Xardox nice to see you moved over from the Banner Herald since it went to pot a couple years back.

Funny thing about the salary survey is that the Board ignored the findings of the last one which recommended an 8.5% increase. Of course they like to refer to what other counties are doing when it suits their purposes and totally ignore them when it doesn't. Instead of the recommended increase, they gave a smaller increase and set a policy to give a yearly COLA instead (which they did once in 10 years). Fast forward a DECADE and employees have seen a couple of one time payments and a 3% COLA. Don't forget that staffing was slashed 20% over the last three years which means they're about as lean as it can get and still provide good service. Most employees I've asked saw a $20-$40 change in their MONTHLY pay which is quickly eaten up by changes in food and fuel prices. The big take away is that employees salary's are at or below the 8.5% level recommended by the last salary survey ten years ago.

Taxes may or may not increase especially with the offset in sales tax revenue. The millage rate has stayed the same for nine years (which is pretty unusual). Let's face it, Oconee is a desirable place to live which fuels demand, which in turn in turn increases prices and the value of all homes (not a bad thing). If you don't agree with the valuation and level of taxation, you can always appeal.