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.

 

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