Chapin, SC (Paul Kirby) - At Thursday’s work session of the Chapin town council, the town’s Utilities Director Andy Metts informed the council that he has been working with M.B. Kahn Construction, the contractor selected to build the town’s new $13 million-dollar waste water plant, to save money on that project. Metts told the council that he and Kahn’s representatives have already identified ways to save between $300,000 and $350,000 on the project. This is amazing, given the fact that the groundbreaking for the plant isn’t even scheduled to be held until the week of February 19th.
Metts said that together, he and the contractor, have identified several roads that could avoided being paved and instead remain as gravel to save some money. These roads would not be intended for public use, but instead would be used by the staff of the utilities department to access areas in and around the plant for inspection and maintenance. Because the roads would have such light use, they really don’t need to be asphalted according to Metts.
Another area that could see substantial savings is in the closing of the old lagoon system once the new plant comes on line. Because the old lagoons have to be correctly closed by DHEC mandate, the town could see an expense totaling as much as $1.3 million dollars. The greatest portion of this expense would be having the old sludge that lines the current lagoon dewatered, meaning dried out, and then trucked away to an independently owned landfill. The dumping or “tipping” fees of the landfill, and the hauling cost, could be the lion’s share of those expenses.
Metts said that he has used an alternate plan in the past while working with Richland County. In the more than 8 lagoon closings he’s dealt with in his career, the owner of the old lagoons has actually been allowed to drain the liquids into the new treatment plant, dewater the sludge, dig trenches on site, and then cover the sludge filled trenches with soils that are already on site, but no longer needed. This could save the town nearly $1 million dollars in the process if DHEC allows this plan. Metts didn’t seem to believe that their approval would be difficult to attain, but he has budgeted for the larger, more expensive amount just in case. As the project begins, it’s heartening to see the first change orders be decreases in the plant. Often, cost overruns and problems that pop up require change orders on these types of projects that increase, not decrease their cost.
Because the town’s utilities were installed as pieces and parts over the past decades, there is much other work to be done. Much of the system is working at or over capacity, and the company that performed the work for the town prior to bringing that work in-house and hiring Metts, never really seemed to be working from a master plan that reflected the needs of the town and surrounding areas today or in the future. Sewer capacity was sold even as far back as the days when Timberlake was originally developed and a system part would be added here or there on an as needed basis. To give you an idea of the problem, the small town of Chapin has more pump stations to power, maintain, and operate than the system in the City of Columbia. Now, the town is suffering the consequences as the hodge-podge of systems is working overtime to keep up. It’s unclear who is at fault in that and there certainly appears there was no real wrong doing in mind. Actually, finding fault doesn’t really matter, the issues are here, and now they are going to have to be addressed.
Metts has made a capital improvements list where he has prioritized the projects by how pressing they are. All of this will need to be addressed in the future and Metts told the council he is working to budget for those needs. He is also seeking grant funding when it’s available to help defray the cost to the town’s utilities customers.
Additionally, when developers that want to build in the area ask to connect, they are having to come out of their pockets for system improvements to Chapin’s infrastructure. This is done if their development is adding to the system’s load, requiring upgrades. This is already the case with a line being run up the side of Wessinger Road from the Old Lexington crossroads to Hilton. This will certainly be a no, or low-cost way for the town to improve their system for Chapin, it’s kind of a no-brainer; let the man who’s straining the system, pay for the improvements that provide relief.
In the future, you will see more and more in the news about the growth, refurbishment, and repair of the Chapin utilities systems. As the designated provider in that area, Metts and his staff are now developing those long-range plans in-house to straighten out the system and bring it into the now. You can count on The Ledger’s staff to keep you up-to-date
on how, when, and at what pace, those changes will proceed.