Mercer County Sanitation District Deals With Big Stink

File image: Mercer County Sanitation District board meeting from February 2020.

Robert Moore

Herald Staff

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The Mercer County Sanitation District is attempting to deal with a big stink.

At last week’s meeting, the board of directors discussed what they could do to alleviate sewer odor near the South Buster Pike Pump Station owned by the City of Danville. Mike Sanford, executive director of the sanitation district, said the district is working with Danville, which treats the sewage from Burgin, to address the formation of hydrogen sulfide before it reaches the city’s pump station. The district already treats the sewage with odor control chemicals before it is piped to Danville. Sanford said increasing the odor control treatment would raise their chemical costs from $12,000 to $60,000 a year.

Stressing that he didn’t have all the information, Sanford said Northpoint Training Center, which also pumps its sewage to Danville, has begun using the same product the sanitation district is using.

On a scale of 1-10, Sanford said hydrogen sulfide reached 11.5 parts per million at the monitoring location. The force main to Danville is long. Sanford said it takes over three days for sewage from the Burgin to reach the Danville pump station. While the sanitation district is working with Danville to alleviate the issue, Sanford said the immediate solution is to pay for increased treatment. Unfortunately, that would cost money the sanitation district doesn’t currently have allocated in its budget.

Even if they had the money, Sanitation District Chairman James Dunn said it might not solve the problem, which predates the construction of the Burgin sewer.

“Will it eliminate the odor? And the answer to that is probably, no, because the problem has been there for years,” Dunn said.

Sanford said until the Burgin sewer went online, there was no odor control at all. He said Northpoint has only recently begun taking steps to control the problem. However, he said the district’s ultimate goal is to be in compliance with their contract with City of Danville.

That is not the only stink connected to the Burgin sewer project. At the same meeting, the board voted to deny a request by the City of Burgin to pay over $7,000 to pave two streets.

Chairman Dunn called the request to pay for paving South Second Street and South Third Street “a slap in the face” after all the work the sanitation district has done to improve the city. Sanford said there were grooves from heavy equipment on South Second. He said he believed the contractors had done full width paving on the roads as promised. Sanford said the damage might have occurred during the repair work after the streets had been repaved.

“Did anybody ask us if we were going to pay for this?” asked Bruce Wade, who sits on the board. Wade said he didn’t see why it was the sanitation district’s responsibility.

Sanford said no. He suggested the city could seek reimbursement through the lawsuit against the contractor, Todd Johnson Contracting Inc. of Danville.

Another board member, Drew Rice, asked if the roads had been in bad shape before the project began. Dunn said yes. It was noted that, with the exception of the paving done after the construction of the sewer, Burgin’s city streets had not been paved in years. Until this year, the state has withholding over $112,000 in road paving funds due to delinquent audits.

“It seems like they want perfection for something that was already in bad shape,” Rice said. He said the city would need to provide some documentation.

“They never did show us what was wrong,” said Larry Catlett, the attorney who represents the sanitation district. “We weren’t given an opportunity to inspect it or anything,”

Catlett blamed the problem on Todd Johnson. He said the district is trying to recover damages and the City of Burgin could file action against the contractor themselves if they wanted to be reimbursed.

The board voted unanimously to deny the city’s claim.

In other business, the board discussed an issue with the Kennedy Bridge plant. Sanford told the board they have been in discussions with the state about spikes in the e.coli levels in the effluent from the treatment plant. He said there are instanteous surges into the plant which have reached up to 60 gallons per minute, which can throw off their lab results. The conditions might have existed at the facility before the sanitation district took over operations, but they had no way of knowing, Sanford said.

One potential solution is to add or repurpose equipment to serve as a surge tank. Liz Dienst, a structural engineer with Strand Associates, said when the plant was re-designed, they decided to not include a surge tank in order to conserve space. Dienst said they also did not want to change the permit at that time.

Chairman Dunn asked if there was a pattern to the sudden spikes. “Could someone else be pumping sewer?” he asked.

Sanford said the district has found no evidence.

“It’s really hard to put our finger on,” he said. “It’s not anything obvious.”

It was noted some of the RV units at the nearby campground could dump up to 100 gallons at a time from their holding tanks.

“That could very well be part of the issue,” Sanford said. He said they would see if the issue went away when the season ended.

“But it’ll come back,” Sanford said.

He stressed the plant is in compliance, but the unexplained surges can push the discharge over the permitted limit for e. coli. When the surges occur, more chlorine is added to remove the e.coli, but at the same time more dechlorination chemicals have to be added to remove the chlorine from the effluent.

He said the board might need to look at adding a holding tank to the Chimney Rock plant and can do this in the proposed Gwinn Island Sewer Project as well.

Sanford said he and Dienst are working on the funding application for the project. He said a big decision needs to be made on easements. The district will need about 100 easements to begin construction once their plans are approved. Obtaining the easements are not included in the services provided by the Lake Village Water Association, he said

In the past, groups of people have come to public meetings ready to sign, but Sanford worried that getting easements signed at public meetings might be hindered because of social distancing restrictions due to COVID-19.

The next meeting of the Mercer County Sanitation District will be at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 8, at Lake Village Water Association (801 Pleasant Hill Drive, Burgin).

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