Thursday, October 01, 2015

Oconee County Reports Major Spills At Its Calls Creek Plant In September And In July

Adds To Long List

Oconee County late yesterday informed the Georgia Environmental Protection Division of yet another problem with the operation of its Calls Creek wastewater treatment facility.

From 5 to 8 a.m. on Sept. 25 the plant released an estimated 50,000 gallons of discharge containing total suspended solids that exceeded the permitted level, according to the county’s report.

The county also acknowledged yesterday another violation of its permit for the Calls Creek facility based on data the county filed for operation of the plant in July.

The July data showed the plant exceeded the permitted level of total suspended solids calculated on a weekly and monthly level during that reporting period.

Both the September and July spills are labeled as “major” by the EPD, and the county already had put into place a program of increased monitoring of the Calls Creek plant as a result of the July violation.

The two spills bring to eight the number of spills reported by the county for its sewage treatment facilities since the first of the year in addition to a spill of undetermined size and duration in April.

Weather Caused Problem

The county told the EPD that the Sept. 25 spill was “brought on by high-wet-weather related” flows into the Calls Creek plant, resulting in an “overflow of effluent” with levels of total suspended solids that exceeded the permitted level.

The water did pass through the ultra-violet disinfection unit before reaching the creek, Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie told me this afternoon, but he said he would not feel comfortable saying the solids in the water were “necessarily inert.”

County's Picture Of Sign

The county has put up a sign at the pipe where water from the wastewater treatment plant discharges into Calls Creek, the county told the EPD.

Haynie told me today that two additional signs had been placed on Calls Creek, one upstream a short distance from the discharge pipe and the other a short distance downstream.

Action Proposed

Haynie told the EPD, in a letter officially dated Sept. 29 but sent to the EPD as an email attachment yesterday, that the county will begin staffing the Calls Creek plant “for more than the normal 8-hours per day” to “ensure this type of event does not reoccur.”

Haynie also said the county will modify the procedures for storing wastewater being treated at the plant to deal with surges of influx of water.

In addition, according to the report to the EPD, the county is moving forward with an upgrade to the Calls Creek plant that will improve its treatment capacity.

Finally, Haynie told the EPD, the county will submit data tomorrow (Oct. 2) on the plant’s discharge “with remaining data to follow as required.”

EPD Letter

The EPD informed Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis on Sept. 10 that the county was in violation of its permit for the Calls Creek plant as a result of its operation in July, though no notice of the letter was released to the public until yesterday.

The EPD told Davis that the data the county submitted as part of its July Discharge Monitoring Report showed it to be in violation of the permit parameter for total suspended solids by more than 50 percent.

The EPD imposed additional reporting requirements for the water of Calls Creek upstream and downstream of the plant as a result of that spill.

The Sept. 10 letter, which Kathy Hayes, administrative assistant to Davis, marked as received on Sept. 14, also stipulated that the county should provide the EPD with a copy of the public notice of the July spill published in the local paper.

Notice Sent Yesterday

Haynie sent a notice to The Oconee Enterprise yesterday, referencing both the Sept. 25 and July spills.

Haynie had mentioned very briefly increased monitoring requirements being imposed by the EPD in a presentation he gave to a group of Oconee County citizens on Sept. 24. The Upper Oconee Watershed Network (UOWN) organized that meeting.

I followed up with Haynie on Sept. 25, asking him for details of the increased monitoring from EPD.

When Haynie sent his report to the EPD and the notice to the Enterprise yesterday, he copied that correspondence to me as well as to representatives of UOWN.

UOWN has been monitoring Oconee streams since Davis acknowledged what he called an “issue” with the Calls Creek plant on May 26.

It later turned out that the county had received videos showing what seemed to be the discharge of untreated sewage water into Calls Creek over at least several days in April.

Haynie Acknowledged Problems

While Haynie had been upbeat in his discussion of the operation of the Utility Department in his presentation to citizens on Sept. 24, he was more cautious before the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night.

Haynie made no mention of the spill on the previous Friday, but he did acknowledge operational problems at the plant. “I wouldn’t say we are out of the woods yet,” he warned. The video below elaborates on that statement.

OCO: Haynie on Woods from Lee Becker on Vimeo

Haynie asked for and received permission from the BOC to spend $67,000 to secure a used wastewater treatment plant that will largely replace the existing plant at Calls Creek.

The total cost of the plant is $2.26 million, and the county will spend a total of more than $6 million to purchase and install the used plant and reconfigure the existing plant.

In the process, the county will increase the treatment capacity of the Calls Creek plant from .67 million gallons per day to 1 million gallons per day.

Video Of BOC Meeting

Haynie inherited those upgrade plans from Chris Thomas, Utility Department director who resigned on June 8 as the problems at the county’s wastewater plans began to reach the public.

Haynie took over as director only on Aug. 4.

Bob Sheldon, hired by the county as a consultant in May, ran the Utility Department under the direction of county Administrative Officer Jeff Benko in the interim period.

At the meeting on Tuesday night Haynie embraced the plan for the upgrade to the Calls Creek plant.

The full video of Haynie’s presentation to the Board of Commissioners is below.

OCO: Haynie On Sewers from Lee Becker on Vimeo

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