Chapin, SC (Paul Kirby) – Chapin Utilities Director Andy Metts gave the town’s mayor and council a mini-seminar on how a sewer system, and Chapin’s in particular, works. This was done in order to help them better understand the current issues facing the town’s system and why private developers can actually help. Metts had drawings, hydraulic modeling schematics, and even a large sewer pump and some alarm float switches at the meeting to demonstrate to the members of the local government how each part works and how he and his staff developed their priority list of improvements for Chapin’s system.
This demonstration was brought about in part by the fact that at the last regular Chapin council meeting, the capital improvements priority list came up for a vote. Two council members voted not to accept the list in its current form. Later, those members said they weren’t familiar enough with the utilities issues to make an informed decision on the list. The list was not a budget document and didn’t have any funding request with it; in fact it was simply an outline of what some call the beginnings of a master plan for the currently installed sewer system. Metts said during last week’s work session that one of his priorities was to commission a master plan in the future for the areas Chapin will eventually serve but doesn’t at this time. He said that there was no formal master plan for the current system he inherited when the utilities department was formed a few years ago. Prior to that, a private contractor did all that work.
During the session Metts used as an example the near systemwide failure during a recent heavy rain event. Pump Station #10, located at Old Lexington Hwy. and Wessinger Rd. near the fire station, went into alarm mode after it reached its capacity to pump and store waste water. Years ago, a storage bladder was installed there to hold excess waste water while the pumps tried to catch up, but that quickly filled to capacity too. The department is aware that this station is a weak point in their system and regularly receives more waste than it can pump. On the day of this event, the alarms went off as designed once the water levels in the bladder and pump well got dangerously high. When it became overwhelmed and got close to overflowing, other stations began to alarm because the weak link was causing waste to back into those, straining the entire system. Eventually, pump stations as far away as Timberlake Plantation began to alarm as the sewage levels got higher in those. Although no sewage overflowed that day because of a fast response by Dan Lambert, who was on call when the system began to fail, and other employees of the utility department, it has in the past. In those cases, untreated sewage from Station #10 runs through a nearby neighbor’s yard and into a creek.
Once Metts had explained and demonstrated the system’s parts, he showed the leaders photos of the interiors of several pump stations. One, the system's newest that’s located at the new county technology park, isn’t really being used yet. Those pictures showed a pristine pump system with all new parts. Another, within a half mile of the new one near McDonald’s on Columbia Avenue, had been in use for years. Those pictures weren’t so nice to look at; imagine everything people flush down their toilets gathered in a large round concrete well, hanging from all its pieces and parts. This is the type of environment utility employees face daily.
Metts said that ironically, developers that are asking to connect to Chapin’s system, may be a part of the solution to its woes. One developer, who’s currently constructing a line at their expense from the area of the overwhelmed Station #10 at the crossroad, will help divert some of the sewage that’s pouring into that wet-well. Their line will ease the strain on Station #10 by providing an alternate route to the sewage treatment plant off Crooked Creek Road. That developer is currently in the process of designing and building the sewer line up Wessinger Rd. to Hilton. Then, the town will run a line along Chapin Rd. to Crooked Creek Rd. and down to the plant.
Kim Murphy, an area activist in education and other areas of government, said after the meeting that she believes that she understood most of what was presented, but thought the formal master plan for the current system should be a top priority. Although the capital projects priority list appears to be an important step toward that, she hopes that eventually Chapin and its utilities department will be able to stop responding to emergencies and get the plan completed. Right now, with construction on a $13-million-dollar sewer plant about to begin, everyday maintenance and issues and all the problems that set off alarms when they fail, that development of a formal master plan may still be a bit off in the future.
See priorities list here: CLICK FOR PDF DOCUMENT
The end result of the mini-seminar and session was that the council, gallery, and others involved, seemed to have a better grasp of what the utilities director and his staff are trying to do. Although the new developers aren’t the only answer to all the system's ills, they do play a part in the solutions. Of course, a part of making the system’s improvements will fall to the town and its utilities department. For a number of years, they have been saving toward their portion and currently have banked more than $5 million dollars that can be used for some of their work. Metts warned he wouldn’t advise ever letting their emergency savings get below $2 million in case some major emergency arose.
In the future, be assured that more will be discussed regarding the expansion and repairs to Chapin’s system.