Sewer spills at Hiawassee’s ‘shutdown’ station

Investigative Report, News
Sewer shutdown - Hiawassee

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Problems related to a sewer lift station that the City of Hiawassee allegedly decommissioned last year continue to literally surface in the form of wastewater seepage, along with a need for Towns County assistance. FYN received citizen reports of an apparent waste spill at the city-owned lift station known as Roadrunner on Saturday, Dec. 28. The information was later confirmed through Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD). The EPD launched an investigation into the Roadrunner shut down in November, and the case remains open and active at this time. The investigation was spawned due to negative effects on businesses located in Towns County’s entertainment district.

Click to read Hiawassee disconnects multiple businesses from sewer system

Click to read EPD launches investigation into Hiawassee sewer shutdown

“The report indicated that an overflow of approximately 50-100 gallons of raw sewage occurred from the city’s Roadrunner lift station due to a malfunctioning float switch, but that the sewage did not enter state waters,” EPD District Manager Mick Smith said in response to the recent seepage. “The report indicated the operator was on-site when the overflow occurred and that the sewage was contained on site.  This was verified by the city’s operator this morning.” Smith stated that city staff applied lime to minimize the odor incurred. Hay was additionally strewn on the soiled site.

Hiawassee sewer system

City of Hiawassee employees responding to the Dec. 28 sewage spill.

Float switches monitor water level changes. At a certain water height, the switch is activated, turning the pump on and off. Spills from untreated wastewater can pose a hazardous effect on the ecosystem and public health.

Furthermore, Towns County Fire and Rescue was summoned to service the Roadrunner station on the morning of Jan. 2. Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland explained that the City of Hiawassee requested county assistance with “backflushing” the sewage well. City of Hiawassee Clerk Bonnie Kendrick stated on Friday that the wastewater in the lift was diverted to Shallows Creek on Route 288 and that the station in question remains bypassed.

The fact that the lift station spilled and required backflushing left business owners adversely affected by the alleged shutdown questioning whether the city had decommissioned the wastewater well after all.

Ken Merritt, the property owner of multiple businesses involved in the dilemma, believes that the City of Hiawassee may have specifically targeted the county’s entertainment district. “My question is, if they are deactivating the line and turning it off to save electric bills, why is it still running, and why does it need to be? Who is still using it, and did (the mayor) just shut us off?”

FYN took Merritt’s concerns to Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales for answers.

“The Road Runner lift station will be used by the city to routinely provide maintenance to the wastewater system,” Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales said. “The cause of the seepage this past week was due to the pipe being clogged north of the Ridges lift station.  This, while not being a common occurrence, happens periodically.  The TC Fire Department, with their force water pumps, have been gracious and very helpful in the past to assist with such issues.  That was the case in the past week’s issue.  This is normal maintenance of our system, and we will continue to provide such maintenance as needed throughout our system.”

The function of lift stations is to ensure wastewater makes it to the treatment plant. The power of gravity is utilized to shuttle the material. Because of how mountainous the local terrain is, however, wastewater needs help along the way. That’s where lift stations come in. They elevate the wastewater so that it can reach a position to rely on gravity, assisting in the process.

Merritt and his legal counsel are considering their next steps toward Mayor Ordiales, council members, and the City of Hiawassee itself. “The issue that the lift station is still functioning and serving others makes it appear that (the mayor) just wanted to shut us down,” Merritt said. Merritt – upon advice from the mayor – recently installed a costly, higher-powered pump in the lift station to increase the push of waste toward the city’s treatment plant.

In an Aug. 26 letter addressed to the EPD by Merritt’s attorney, legal counsel claimed that the “unilateral decision of the City of Hiawassee to discontinue the use of and the bypass of the Roadrunner lift station” has harmed the Merritt’s system due to excessive reverse pressure on the network. “The City of Hiawassee has continuously charged a monthly sewer service bill to each property owner connected to and using the sanitary sewer extension,” the attorney added.

According to the EPA, when the power supply is interrupted, flow conveyance is discontinued and can result in flooding upstream of the lift station. It can also interrupt the regular operation of the downstream wastewater conveyance and facilities.

Merritt’s lift station, located adjacent to Sand Bar and Grille. Merritt hired a septic service to remove thousands of gallons of waste over the course of many weeks after the city disconnected multiple businesses from the sewer system.

Merritt further claimed that the City of Hiawassee did not consult with civil engineer, Don Baker, who designed the sewer system regarding the Roadrunner shutdown. FYN is currently awaiting a return call from Baker on the matter.

FYN spoke with Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw last week on the issue, due to the fire department’s involvement and the fact that several county departments filter through Merritt’s disconnected lift station. Bradshaw stated that the City of Hiawassee is solely responsible for the sewage system, although the county is willing to assist in backflushing the city’s wastewater well as needed.

Continue to follow FYN for information on the City of Hiawassee’s sewer saga as developments occur.


Feature Image: Towns County Fire and Rescue assisting the city’s lift station on State Route 76.



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