published Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Monteagle's sewage plant malfunctions

Chief operator John Condra, left, and Jerome Blalock point out the ultraviolet treatment equipment, left, and aerators in the new Monteagle, Tenn., wastewater treatment plant. The facility was flooded Tuesday during heavy rains.
Chief operator John Condra, left, and Jerome Blalock point out the ultraviolet treatment equipment, left, and aerators in the new Monteagle, Tenn., wastewater treatment plant. The facility was flooded Tuesday during heavy rains.
Photo by John Rawlston.

During heavy rains overnight Monday and Tuesday, a malfunction at Monteagle, Tenn.'s new sewage treatment plant flooded the basement, soaked the electronics and backflowed wastewater from the treatment basins inside the plant, state and local officials said.

When workers arrived at Monteagle's multimillion-dollar Wastewater Treatment Plant 3 on Tuesday morning, treatment units were full, and "through what appeared to be some plumbing configuration, sewage was forced into the basement of the new treatment plant," Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said.

While workers looked for the cause of the backflow, more than 4 feet of wastewater filled the large basement room where "all the control panels, UV disinfection, electrical controls [and similar equipment] are located," Lockhart said in an email Tuesday afternoon. "The operator also stated that they could smell something burning in the basement."

Monteagle Mayor Marilyn Campbell Nixon said workers contacted TDEC immediately and state officials provided initial directions for response.

No untreated wastewater had made it to the nearby Juanita or Trussell creeks, Nixon said Tuesday afternoon. And officials are treating wastewater pumped from the basement before it is discharged, she said.

"We will be manually operating the plant and will be disinfecting here on the site and discharging the treated wastewater within permit levels," the mayor said of plans until repairs are made. "It's not ideal, but it meets requirements of our permit, following TDEC's direction."

Nixon said the plant was checked at 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. CDT on Tuesday after alarms sounded, but no problems were found. When employees got to work around 6 a.m. CDT, they found wastewater flooding the basement and no obvious reason for it, she said.

"Thank God we're under warranty," Nixon said. "If it's some faulty equipment or design, we're covered."

Local firefighters brought equipment to the plant to pump wastewater from the basement onto the ground surrounding the plant, Lockhart said.

"The ground will be disinfected with lime once the rains stop and the basement is pumped dry," she said.

Workers will be able to re-enter the basement to assess damage after the basement is dry and disinfected, Lockhart said.

"Once a damage assessment has been made and it is deemed possible to restart the [sewage treatment plant], electrical service will be restored," she said. There was no timeline on fully reactivating the plant.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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