A sludge buildup that occurred in the fall is behind the town’s hesitation to grant sewer access to just anyone. For years, the town has hired an outside contractor to come in with a sludge press to compact the sewage before it is hauled to a Georgia landfill. According to Lamar Williams, the superintendent of the waste plant and wastewater for the town, the company wasn’t always available when the town needed them to come in. As a result, the sludge built up and caused the sewage system to operate much less efficiently than it normally would.
The town finally purchased a sludge press for $188,000 after renting one a couple of times a year at a cost of six cents per gallon, Alderman James Gribble said.
Williams said the town wants to “make sure we can keep our solids under control.”
“We had such a big sludge buildup. It just wasn’t properly digesting, so what was happening is that some of it was going into the river, and as soon as it was called to our attention, we started trying to do something about it,” Gribble said.
The town wants to make sure its new sludge press works before letting more people connect to the sewer system.
“What we’re doing is giving it a couple of months to make sure everything is functioning properly,” Gribble said.
In the meantime, this means denying any requests that aren’t in the town limits. So far, six people have been denied, according to Mayor Brad Walker. The latest request at the last town board meeting came from a man who had already built a house. The town board had to tell him no, since his property sat just outside town limits.
“We’re not in there to deny people access to sewer, (but) we concluded that we have to serve the town ... before we serve people outside city limits,” Gribble said.
“The board just wants to make sure it works and everything works out and we’re able to keep up before they add a bunch more sewer taps on,” Williams agreed.
And fair is fair, Gribble said.
“It’s just not right to deny one person and put someone else on,” he said.
Adding to the board’s decision to deny sewer access outside town limits is that the town has already agreed to provide sewer for two new developments in the county outside Bryson City.
“(The two developments) are not really large scale, but they’ll put a lot of houses on the system,” Walker said. “When they get on line, it’s going to get really tight, then if they add a whole lot more (connections) now, they don’t know what affect it’s going to have.”
Town officials agree that the sludge press is only a temporary fix. Bryson City is currently operating at more than half of its 600,000 a day capacity.
“There are more and more people all the time, and more connections. We’ll have to eventually expand if they keep adding many more connections. A plant won’t operate good if you get over 80 percent (capacity),” Williams said.
In fact, the state requires towns to have an expansion plan in place if the current system is at 80 percent of its capacity.
Bryson’s plant is roughly 20 years old, Gribble said, and the town is well aware of the need to upgrade and likely expand it.
“The last time we met as a group that’s one thing we talked about is the infrastructure is going to have to be upgraded,” he said. Gribble said the town has an engineering firm coming in to look at the sewer system and tell them what needs to be done to upgrade and properly repair it. Upgrades and an expanded or new plant will cost millions, but its something the town will have to deal with in the future. Individual septic systems aren’t a good alternative, Gribble said, because “you can’t keep putting in septic systems and still having clean water.”
“My thing is to start working to the future to do a new plant. (The town) currently has two. We will need another one in the next five years, but they’re like $2 million. That’s one of my focuses is I’m trying to find out all the facts and find out how we get the money from the grants and make sure we have water and sewer for growth,” Walker said.
In the meantime, town officials urge those outside the town limits to reapply for sewer connections in a few months, when the town is sure the new sludge press is working properly.