HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources – Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has launched an investigation into the City of Hiawassee’s controversial “Roadrunner” sewer station shutdown. FetchYourNews (FYN) broke the story on the repercussions of Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales’ decision to disconnect numerous Towns County businesses from wastewater disposal earlier this week.
Click to read: Hiawassee Disconnects Multiple Businesses from Sewer System
Georgia EPD Director of Communications Kevin Chambers confirmed this morning, Nov. 15, that the state department has opened an investigation into the matter. A field agent from the environmental division visited the city-owned Roadrunner site Nov. 14, along with the privately-owned lift station maintained by Ken and Dana Merritt, stakeholders connected to several impacted businesses in Towns County’s entertainment district.
Sodbusters, a Hayesville-based septic service hired by the Merritts to dispose of the quickly-accumulating waste, reported Nov. 15 that the sewage vault has required 70 pumpings – which amounts to approximately 91,000 gallons of total waste removal – at a rate of eight truckloads hauled for disposal per day since the ordeal began.
“(Disconnecting the Roadrunner lift station) addresses several issues that have been long-standing,” Mayor Ordiales said in part earlier this week. “The odor from that area has been an issue for over 13 years, the need for weekly maintenance to that lift station, the need to have utilities present, both water and electricity, the maintenance and repairs of two large pumps valued at over $15,000 each, and the maintenance of a large electric panel to operate that lift station.” Mayor Ordiales stated that the initial decision to shut down the facility was reached in December 2018.
Lift stations require a source of electric power, and the Merritts claim that discontinuation of the city sewage site is not only a threat to the environment but caused damage to their privately-owned lift pump. 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 normal operation of the downstream wastewater conveyance and facilities.
“The City was unaware of the (EPD) inspection but always welcomes input to make our system work more efficiently and effectively,” Mayor Ordiales told FYN on Nov. 15. “During their inspection, they did find that there was trash around the area that was not picked up in a timely manner. EPD contacted the City this morning, and The City addressed their concerns and reported back this afternoon.” Ordiales added that fines were not imposed as a result of yesterday’s inspection.
EPD stated that a timetable is not affixed to the pump station investigation. Merritt, who spoke with the field agent on Thursday, indicated to FYN that the EPD’s preliminary findings suggested that the private pump appears to be “in compliance” with state regulations.
Continue to follow FYN for updated information on Hiawassee’s sewage situation as developments occur.
HIAWASSEE, GA. – Numerous businesses and residences in Towns County are left without a previous means of wastewater disposal following an alleged “unilateral decision” by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales to discontinue the use of a city sewer lift station known as “Roadrunner” on State Highway 76. Wastewater lift stations are used for pumping wastewater or sewage from a lower to higher elevation, particularly where the elevation of the source is not sufficient for gravity flow.
Ken and Dana Merritt – stakeholders concerned with the affected businesses and residences – contacted FetchYourNews (FYN) following reported attempts to remedy the foreboding situation through Mayor Ordiales, and subsequently, members of Hiawassee City Council whom purportedly suggested a lawsuit against the municipality.
“We have multiple business interests in the Ridges area of Towns County….” Ken Merritt began. “The mayor of Hiawassee has disconnected all of these entities from the sewer system and sewage has been seen overflowing from the lift station which has been in operation since early 2000. The sewer system was designed by the city’s engineer, approved by the city council, and has worked well since it was completed. The mayor decided arbitrarily without engineering council that she would shut down an adjacent lift station because of the electrical cost. Consequently, the lift station in front of Sand Bar was left to move the flow of sewage three-and-one-half miles to the sewer plant. It was never designed for that purpose and the sewage has backed up into the vault and overflowed onto the grounds. It makes no difference to the mayor that countless people and businesses that pay a monthly sewer bill are just a day or two away from having their toilets overflow.”
Merritt stated that he has hired a septic service to remove and dispose of the waste from the sewage vault at a rate of 3-to-4 times per day, following the City of Hiawassee’s cessation of the Roadrunner lift station. Merritt explained that failure to remove the waste would result in above ground seepage, forcing connected businesses to close their doors. Furthermore, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division (EPD), issued a warning that a civil penalty of up to $50,000 per day could be imposed due to the proximity of the Merritt’s waste system to Lake Chatuge.
“The City is constantly striving to run a more efficient and effective operation,” Mayor Ordiales responded. “In review of the current sewer system and with the impending expansion, the decision to by-pass the road runner lift station was made in December of 2018. This by-pass addresses several issues that have been long-standing; the odor from that area has been an issue for over 13 years, the need for weekly maintenance to that lift station, the need to have utilities present, both water and electricity, the maintenance and repairs of two large pumps valued at over $15,000 each, and the maintenance of a large electric panel to operate that lift station. The City consulted with City engineers and electricians prior to making the final decision to decommission the Roadrunner lift station.
“The lift station that is failing is not a City-owned and operated lift station,” Hiawassee’s mayor continued. “It is privately owned by Dana and Ken Merritt. That lift station was installed over 17 years ago and it was accepted by (the) City for use by the businesses that were operable at that time. Since then, there have been many new businesses added to that area that utilize that lift station. The area has simply outgrown that lift station. The City has been working with the Merritts since March of 2019 to correct the issues on that privately-owned lift station. The city will not spend taxpayer money on privately-owned property. The Merritts have been notified many months ago as to the replacement pumps needed to properly operate that lift station but have not been responsible in taking care of their property. There have been several letters, meetings at City Hall, telephone communications to no avail. It is very disappointing that they have put the businesses that are served by that lift station in peril of closing and more importantly putting our most valuable resource, Lake Chatuge, in danger. The failing lift station serves only the area of the Sand Bar, Moondance complex, El Cancun, and Dogwood St area. The City has contacted EPD and they, in turn, have written a letter to the Merritts earlier this year informing them of the consequences of their irresponsibility.”
Mayor Ordiales stated that the solution to the problem includes the installation of proper pumps that would handle the volume of sewage flowing through it.
The Merritts expressed that they believe that a portion of a 2018 grant accepted by the City of Hiawassee should be used to remedy the situation.
Additionally, the Merritts stated that reverse pressure from the inoperative Roadrunner lift station has caused damage to the private sewer system, forcing repairs. In an Aug. 26 letter addressed to the EPD by the Merritt’s attorney, the couple’s legal counsel responded 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 system. “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.
“If the system ceases to function properly there will be irreparable damage to the environment and businesses,” Dana Merritt said. “It will not only (destroy) several lift station pumps but also close businesses not limited to but including the jail, recreation center, Ridges Resort, Watercrest Condos, several restaurants, Cinema 6, and other private businesses.”
FYN intends to follow developments as they occur.
Feature Image: Sewer station in question, located near Sand Bar and Grille on State Highway 76, west of Hiawassee.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Sand Bar and Grille, a popular location for leisure and entertainment, announced that the venue will begin offering free taxi rides home to guests. The taxi service will run on Friday and Saturday nights from 10:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.
“We love our patrons and we want to make sure they have a good time and get home safely. That’s the bottom line,” Manny Carrion, the owner of the Sand Bar and Grille, told FYN. “There’s no shame in coming back to get your vehicle the next day. That just proves to us that you’ve made a good decision the night before.”
Carrion said that while he isn’t certain how many other establishments offer a free taxi service, the Sand Bar and Grille is happy being different in order to care for its valued patrons. “I don’t care how busy we are or how many people need a ride home, we are committed and dedicated to helping people make good decisions and getting them home safely.”
The in-demand establishment offers a variety of themes throughout the week.
“The Sand Bar used to be open three days a week for six months out of the year, now we are the Sand Bar and Grille open 7 days a week all year round, starting for lunch at 11:30 am,” Carrion explained. “The locals have been so thankful for that. I hear it every week how appreciative they are that we are open seven days a week year-round and do not ever shut down. We have big fans that shoot out cool air during the summer and heaters to heat it during the winter. Mondays are Margarita Mondays, Tuesdays are barbecue pork, Wednesday is Wing Wednesday, Thursday we serve fresh oysters and shrimp, Friday and Saturday evenings we have live bands from 7 to 11, and Sunday is Sunday Fun Day with DJs and the NFL Sunday ticket.”
Sand Bar and Grille — a casual, beach-style venue — overlooks sparkling Lake Chatuge, west of Hiawassee on U.S. Highway 76.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Independence Day is quickly approaching, and Towns County will feature several events to celebrate America’s freedom. The Lake Chatuge Boat Parade is scheduled to launch the festivities, Thursday, July 4. “Boaters line up in the Sunset Bay Cove behind Aqua Tiki, the Grand Marshal, for the parade beginning at 10:30 am,” Towns County Chamber of Commerce said. “No wake, and boats must fly a U.S. flag. Additional patriotic decorations are encouraged. Boats must have a number issued to be considered for judging. A $50 prize will be awarded for most creatively decorated boat, and also for the most red, white and blue. Boats will parade past the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds, under Anderson Bridge, and past the Hiawassee Beach area before disbanding. Judges will be positioned at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds.” Winners will be announced July 4 at 2 pm on the “Towns County and Lake Chatuge Chamber of Commerce” Facebook page.
Towns County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to the Sand Bar on Highway 76 on Saturday, August 20, shortly after midnight in reference to a physical altercation which was reportedly occurring there.
Upon arrival, deputies located a male subject severely injured lying on the ground, being treated by Towns County Emergency Medical Service personnel. He was transported from the scene and admitted for medical treatment.
The incident was turned over to investigators with the Sheriff’s Office to investigate further. Sheriff’s investigators were also assisted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to follow up on the altercation. Sheriff’s Office investigators currently have identified a total of 26 witnesses. The investigators has also gathered other evidence as well.
Anyone who was present at the Sand Bar at the time of this altercation who has not been interviewed by investigators is asked to call the Towns County Sheriff’s Office at 706-896-4444 and ask for Lt. Aaron Deyton.
At this time the investigation is active and ongoing.