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State OKs sewage plan for part of Gorge development

A controversial high-end development along the Nantahala River in the Nantahala Gorge has received the green light for an alternative sewer system that will allow construction of homes to begin on part the property.

The development is long and skinny — 35 acres bordering 1.7 miles of the river. River outfitters, rafters and kayakers initially protested the development, claiming it would alter the character of the close-knit outdoor community and destroy the natural setting that defines the Nantahala Gorge.

The developer, Ami Shinitzky, bought the land for $4.8 million last March. He is planning two developments on the property — Mystic River with 15 lots and Mystic Village with 17 lots. All the lots were sold in a matter of weeks last summer following an aggressive marketing campaign. Averaging just one-third of an acre, the lots sold for between $225,000 and $375,000, according to Swain County property transactions.

Traditional septic tanks weren’t an option for the development, however. Septic tanks must be a minimum distance from the river and the houses. The lots are too small and too close to the river to accommodate the required setbacks.

Instead, the development had to find an alternative method of getting rid of sewage. Part of the development — the 15 lots called Mystic River — was recently approved by the state Division of Water Quality for a drip irrigation system.

When someone flushes their toilet, takes a shower, does laundry or washes dishes, the wastewater will circulate through a series of enclosed underground tanks where it is filtered and treated. The treated water is pumped through drip irrigation hoses laying on top of the ground. The water seeps out of the hose in tiny drips along its length and is absorbed into the ground. Meanwhile, sludge that accumulates in the treatment tank occasionally has to be pumped out and hauled off.

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The drip irrigation cannot be operated if it is raining, if the ground is soggy or if the ground is frozen and can’t absorb the drips. As a result, the development will

have a tank large enough to hold 20 days worth of the treated water — enough capacity to outlast frozen or wet times when the ground can’t absorb water. The system will have another tank to hold five days worth of wastewater in case the system malfunctions and the wastewater has to run back through the treatment tank for another go.

Keeping it up

Shinitzky said he is paying for the construction and installation of the sewer system, after which is will be turned over to the property owners association to operate and maintain.

“We the developers are paying for the system. Each homeowner will pay the hookup fee, which is no higher than it would cost to get a septic tank,” Shinitzky said. “We will make sure everything is running correctly and then the property owners association takes charge.”

It is unclear how expensive it will be for the property owners association to maintain the drip irrigation sewer system. Shinitzky said much of the monitoring will be done by electronic sensors. The property owners group will contract with someone to maintain the system. That person would be alerted if any of the sensors showed signs of a malfunction, Shinitzky said.

But it might not be that easy. According to the permit issued by the state Division of Water Quality, the system must be monitored for compliance in 13 areas, including pH, chloride levels, fecal coliform, flow levels, biochemical oxygen demand. Some factors can be monitored with electronic sensors, but others have to be monitored manually by taking water samples and sending them to a lab — twice a month for some of the measurements and on a daily basis for others.

In addition to contracting with someone to perform routine maintenance and to monitor the operations, the property owners will have to pay for lab tests on the water samples, special repairs, parts, and hauling off the sludge.

The system must have enough capacity to meet the demands of all the homes as if they were full-time family residences. But Shinitzky said many of the homes will be vacation homes.

“On practical terms we are building over capacity,” Shinitzky said of the sewer system. “The chance of all the bedrooms in all the homes being filled at exactly the same time is very remote.”

Shinitzky is still working on a wastewater permit for the rest of the development — 17 homes called Mystic Village. The 15 homes called Mystic River that have been permitted already have a two-acre site adjacent to the homes where the drip irrigation hoses will lay across the ground. The wastewater for Mystic Village will have to be carried further to reach a drip irrigation area where the hose can lay.

Wastewater irrigation systems are becoming a more common method used by developers. A development in Macon County called Cottages at Lake Osseroga uses drip irrigation and a development in the Cashiers area called Mountain Top uses spray irrigation to dispose of their wastewater.

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