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Wednesday, 07 April 2010 17:37

TWASA looks for long-term solution on orphan sewer lines

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Last month, officials from the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority and the Town of Sylva clashed over who was responsible for fixing a clogged town sewer line.

The issue has since been resolved, with TWASA’s board voting 4-1 to reimburse Sylva for the cost of the repair after all. But the larger issue of what to do with “orphan” sewer lines that don’t appear on TWASA’s maps remains.

A committee representing all of the entities that formed the TWASA two decades ago has been convened to examine and interpret TWASA’s charter, according to Board Chairman Randall Turpin

At stake is whether TWASA is responsible for maintaining and repairing lines that weren’t on the original maps back when the newly formed private enterprise took over Sylva’s water and sewer system in the early ‘90s.

“How do we categorize the lines that weren’t identified at that time?” Turpin said.

TWASA’s has a policy not to repair small lines that didn’t appear on the original maps.

Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody doesn’t understand how such a policy could be in place.

“From my perspective, when TWASA was formed in 1992, they accepted the entire sewer system in existence at the time,” Moody said. “Therefore, I feel they have the responsibility to maintain it.”

But while TWASA’s charter document clearly gives the authority the responsibility to operate and maintain the entire system, it also gives it broad discretion to determine how and when to repair, upgrade and maintain the sewer lines.

The TWASA board felt it was important to pay Sylva back for the clog in order to move forward with a more productive discussion, according to TWASA Executive Director Joe Cline.

But they also wanted the municipalities to understand the planning process that goes into upgrades and maintenance of the system.

Turpin said TWASA relies on a regimented capital improvement plan that goes through its Water and Sewer Projects Committee, a system set up in the charter document.

Turpin said the authority has to be able to budget for maintenance and upgrades each year based on projected revenues. Spur of the moment repairs on unmapped lines present a problem.

“If there’s lines that are identified out there that we can get to the WASP committee and into the capital improvement plan, then that’s a positive outcome,” Turpin said.

TWASA already has a board made up of representatives from Jackson County, Dillsboro and Sylva. But Turpin wanted to get other people into the discussion, so he asked the municipalities to appoint members.

Jackson County commissioners refused to make an appointment, saying that County Chairman Brian McMahan could represent the county through the seat he already has on the TWASA board.

The committee will include Brad Moses, Larry Phillips, Chuck Wooten and Brian McMahan from the existing TWASA board; Maurice Moody and Chris Matheson from Sylva; and Mike Fitzgerald and Wade Wilson from Dillsboro. The subcommittee will meet for the first time at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 8, at TWASA’s main office.

Matheson said she was happy to serve on the committee, but she was still slightly confused about why she was needed.

“If going into the meeting, the idea is that the forming document is valid and binding and we just have to make sure everybody is on the same page, I’m fine with that,” Matheson said.

But she said Sylva’s board hasn’t changed its position that TWASA needs to repair broken lines when they cause problems.

Turpin said the meeting would provide a unique opportunity to talk through the issue of orphan lines and capital improvement planning.

“We have annual meetings with all the forming entities but this is the first time since I’ve been on the board that all of the entities have come together over a common concern,” Turpin said.

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