City Seeks GMA Counsel on Sewage Issue

On December 14, 2017, the City of Lyons opened the bids to refurbish both our NE and SE Sewage Treatment Facilities and increase the capacity of our NE facility. Our engineering consultant, Hofstadter and Associates, had predicted the cost to be around $14 million. The city was hoping for a minimum bid of around $12 million, but, alas, when the bids were opened, the minimum bid came in at $17,538,000. This was very disappointing and was more than the Mayor and Council felt the city’s water users could reasonably afford. They tabled the matter until after the first of the year, and that’s how it came to be on my platter, as a newly elected Councilman.

So it was back to the drawing board with two new Councilmen now joining the government team to see if there was a way the project could be made more affordable.

Consult with GMA

Seeking a better solution, City Manager Jason Hall arranged for Mayor Willis NeSmith, Councilman John Moore, Jr.  and myself to ride with him to Atlanta on Wednesday, January 10, 2018 to meet with the newly appointed Executive Director of the Georgia Municipal Association, Larry Hanson. The purpose of the trip was to seek Mr. Hanson’s counsel about how we might solve our sewage issue.

Screenshot 2018-01-11 17.31.33GMA Headquarters, 201 Pryor Street, Atlanta, GA

Mr. Hanson previously worked for the City of Valdosta for 42 years, 22 of those as the City Manager, so he brought a wealth of experience to his new job as GMA’s Executive Director. In 2009, his city’s wastewater treatment facility was flooded creating a large sewage spill and they were forced to build a new facility in a short period of time.

Their approach was innovative … instead of having the city’s engineer fully design a plant and put those specifications out to a bid, they had their engineer instead sit down with the prospective contractors and their engineers to explained the city’s basic needs in general terms. They then solicited bids for these contractors to submit their own “design” and what it would cost to “build” their design. The new approach was called “Design Build”.

The concept allowed the contractors to present innovative solutions, which were then evaluated by the city officials and the city’s engineer. Valdosta’s solution was rather ingenious and not only solved their sewage problem, but saved the city millions in the bargain. They won several awards for the approach. Click here for an article on their success story.

Mr. Hanson shared the experience with us and said he would send us some more information that might help us solve our local problem. I was very intrigued by what he told us.

So, with that in mind, let’s recap the sewage issue facing Lyons. As I have come to see it, being new to the scene, we have a threefold problem: maintenance, capacity, and EPA Regulations.

Maintenance

We currently have two sewage facilities that were both built in the late 1980’s with a 20 year life expectancy which are now approaching their 30th year of use. These facilities each had a capacity to treat 750,000 gallon/day. The city did a good job at the time of estimating our long term needs and it is a testament to their planning that the facilities have served the city for this long beyond their expected life. In fact, both facilities still have excess capacity. The NE plant could treat another 200,000/day and the SE plant could treat another 300,000 gallons/day.

The liquids coming into sewage treatment facilities is not all sewage from residential homes and businesses. Much of it comes from what they call “I & I”, meaning water “infiltration” and “inflow” that comes from rain. Sewage plants must be designed to also handle this rain water that flows into the sewers. Their capacity would be quickly inundated after a heavy rain were it not for an equalization pond at each location that holds the inflow until the plant has time to process it.

Here is an aerial view of the NE sewage treatment facility and equalization pond located on North Hall Street.

Screenshot 2018-01-11 17.01.37

Here is an aerial view of the SE sewage treatment facility  and the equalization pond on East Thompson Avenue.

Screenshot 2018-01-11 17.02.10

As happens with any facility like this over time, each of the plants is wearing out and are approaching the point where they will be beyond repair.

Future Capacity Needs

Cities grow and their infrastructure needs change over time to accommodate this growth. The city will soon reach a point where more sewage is being produced than these existing facilities can handle.

While Lyons’ sewage treatment systems have enough current capacity for our residential and business users, we are limited when it comes to attracting new industry. That is a big concern, because by all other measures, Lyons is well situated to attract new industry. We are close to I-16 and not far from the Savannah sea ports. US # 1 is paved with four lanes from our industrial park to the expressway. We have a good labor supply, the Southeastern Technical College, a good secondary school system and Vidalia is a major trade center that attracts shoppers from several surrounding counties. We have many other amenities that appeal to industry. Those industries bring much needed jobs to Lyons.

When Chicken of the Sea located a plant in our Industrial Park, it had a significant impact on our sewage system. When U. S. Pets also located there, it significantly impacted us even further. Both of these “agricultural” product processors discharge a high volume of sewage into our system. Between the two of them, they have pushed the NE sewage treatment facility close to its maximum capacity.

While we are currently handling this volume, we would struggle to serve another industry like these two.  This is not advantageous to us. Some industries that might otherwise be attracted to our area, might mark Lyons off of their list of best locations because of fears we could not handle their sewage.

Of course, this is a concern to the Toombs County Development Authority, which is actively soliciting new industry to locate here. It also concerns your governing authority as well, because we want our citizens and future citizens to have access to those good jobs and prosperity that industry helps to bring.

EPA Regulations

Aggravating the situation in which the city finds itself, the EPA has a tiered set of standards that must be met by these facilities before the treated water may be introduced into the tributaries that flow into Swift Creek. While we are meeting the standards associated with our current volume, to increase our capacity to what we now need, we will have to comply with more stringent EPA standards.

The new design on which the contractors were bidding would double the capacity of the NE plant, which serves our citizens, businesses north of the railroad tracks, and the Industrial Park, from 750 thousand gallons to 1.5 million gallons per day and add a new filtering mechanism to the treatment process that will fully comply with the EPA regulations associated with that higher processing rate.

We would also refurbish the SE plant and bring it back to its original state to continue to serve the citizens and businesses south of the railroad track. We would then be set for another 20 years or longer, as far as sewage treatment is concerned.

 

Going Forward

So this is a high level description of the challenge facing the governing authority of Lyons as I perceive it. How do we update the existing facilities and expand the capacity to meet our needs going forward, without unreasonably burdening the citizens who will be paying for the new system through their water bills.

I will be diligently listening to our experts, studying our options and, in concert with the other members of the City Council, seeking to do my part to identify the option that best serves our citizens. I will tell you that I am intrigued by the “Design Build” approach that Valdosta chose and impressed that it cost them far less per gallon than the solution we have on our table right now.

While I am hesitant to reject all the bids that have been submitted and start over with a design build approach, I don’t want to continue down one path when a better path has been revealed that, in the long run, will be a better option for us.

I couldn’t conclude this blog without commending all the work that your city officials have done trying to find a solution to the sewage problem. The City Manager, Jason Hall, has been laser focused on this issue and is bending over backwards to keep the Mayor and Council informed about options. In my ride with Jason and Mayor NeSmith to Atlanta and back, I pelted them both with lots of questions and was very impressed at how informed they were and how much thought they have given and are continuing to give this issue.

Improving our sewage system is a huge investment and deserves a lot of attention. I am convinced your governing authority is going to find a good solution. To my constituents in Ward 1: I promise to do my part as your representative on the Council.

I will keep you informed as I learn more about this issue.

 

City Council Meeting – 01/04/18

IMG_5429At this evening’s meeting, the first order of business was to swear in the three councilmen that had been elected on November 7, 2017 to serve four year terms, beginning January 1, 2018. John Moore, Jr. and I were being sworn in for the first time, and Ben Mitchell was sworn in for another term, having been re-elected. Probate Judge Larry Threlkeld performed the swearing in ceremony. The Rev. Jim Morrow, from the First United Methodist Church in Lyons, where both John and me are members, gave the opening prayer.

Providing Cancer Insurance Coverage for Our Volunteer Firemen

Lyons has a volunteer fire department and over twenty citizens have become volunteer firefighters. They are well trained and dedicated to the task, putting their lives at risk every time the fire alarm sounds in the city.

I’d like to comment on the training rigors to which these volunteers subject themselves. I had an opportunity to view the “smoke chamber” where the firefighters practice for real life emergencies by crawling in two sealed metal cargo trailers filled with obstacles simulating home and business environments they might encounter. The trailers are completely inundated with smoke and the volunteers must crawl through them in the dark and smoky atmosphere and feel their way up stairs, over furniture and around other obstacles to locate the source of the fire. It takes a brave soul to just go through this training!

Besides the risk to their lives, our brave firefighters are exposed to cancer causing carcinogenic smoke almost every time they respond to a fire and this exposure can have a long term effect. A resolution was introduced exalting the work of our firefighters and for the first time extending coverage to them with a cancer insurance policy.

I voted in favor of this resolution. It passed unanimously.

Street Drainage Improvements in Salem Subdivision

The city was able to obtain a grant to help pay for a project improving the streets and drainage in Salem Subdivision west of the old Elementary School. The total cost of the project is going to be $596,961, with the city taxpayers only having to put up 33% or $194,996. The low bid was made by Sikes Brothers, Inc., who should begin the project soon.

I live in this subdivision and can attest to our neighborhood being among many in need of projects like this. On behalf of my many neighbors in the Salem Subdivision, I wish I could take credit for getting this job started, but all the legwork was done before I took office. Nevertheless, I applaud the work of our staff in securing the grant that will pay for most of this project.

I also learned that the original bid was for over $800,000, more than the city had in the budget, and we were in danger of not being able to proceed, thus losing the grant, but our City Manager was able to negotiate a lower amount with the contractor bringing the final cost to the above figure without compromising on the quality of the job or extent of the work. Kudos to all involved!

I voted in favor of giving Sikes Brothers the contract. The motion passed unanimously.

Purchase of Two Additional Police Patrol Cars

A grant has been obtained to partially cover the cost to purchase two additional patrol cars for our police department, replacing older cars nearing the end of their useful life; however, the grant was not sufficient to fully fund the cars recommended by the Chief of Police and the council would have been required to pass an amendment to our existing budget to acquire both cars.

I did not yet feel comfortable with making adjustments to the budget until I could determine the impact to other departments of this reallocation of funds and until I could get a better understanding of the adequacy of our current fleet of police vehicles to our public safety needs.

The Mayor concurred that it would be unfair to the two new councilmen to move quickly on this issue and suggested the resolution should be tabled.

I moved to table this resolution until further study could be done. The vote to table was unanimous.

The meeting adjourned with no further business. Rev. Jim Morrow offered the closing prayer.

A New Councilman Takes Office

On January 4, 2018, I was sworn in as the new councilman to represent Ward 1 of the City of Lyons, Georgia. As I embarked on this new journey, my first time ever serving as an elected public official, I was both honored to have this opportunity to serve and humbled that the people in my Ward had placed such confidence in me.

Every since I was elected on November 7, 2017, I have striven to prepare myself to be true to that trust. I have visited with each of the other councilmen and the mayor to get better acquainted with their vision for the city. I have talked to the city manager and had him introduce me to the heads of each of the city departments. I’ve toured the city properties, including the wastewater treatment facilities, police station, fire department, shop and looked at much of the equipment the city uses to carry out its services to the citizens.

I have been very impressed with the professionalism of everyone I have met and their commitment to public service. Meeting each of the city’s employees is something to which I look forward.

There is so much to learn to do this job right. The City Manager, Jason Hall, and the Clerk, Lynn Rowland, have already done a great job of lining me up for the training require of all newly elected city councilmen and I will be traveling to Atlanta soon to get that training. I have worked in government all my life (Georgia Department of Revenue) and may have a bit of a head start on those who normally are elected to this position, but most of my experience has been with state and county government, so some training specific to the issues that face city governments will certainly be beneficial.

There are also great opportunities through the Georgia Municipal Association to network with elected officials from other cities and share ideas, learning about common problems and opportunities for solving those problems.

I also appreciate how officials from the Toombs County Development Authority, the Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce and the Toombs County Commissioners have already reached out to me to let me know they are ready and willing to assist in getting me fully aware of all the things a councilman needs to know to best serve his citizens. Our State Senator, Blake Tillery, and our State Representative, Greg Morris, have both greeted me and expressed their readiness to help me achieve my goals for the city.

Our republic is a representative form of government where citizens choose representatives to attend to their governmental needs, so it is only proper that I let you know how I am voting where you can evaluate whether I am doing a good job representing you.

This blog is dedicated to the citizens of Ward 1 in the City of Lyons but I welcome any other citizens of our fair city who wants to follow the actions of the Lyons City Council from this councilman’s perspective.

Click here to be taken to the main website of the city of Lyons.

Larry M. Griggers, Councilman
Ward 1, City of Lyons, Georgia