City officials in Brooklet, which has no town-wide sewer system, are looking at installing a small system, with pumps and a pipeline leading to large septic tanks and a single drain field, to serve businesses in the downtown area.
Brooklet’s only city-owned sewer system connects homes on Goodman Street and a neighboring street to a couple of big, shared septic tanks. Currently serving about 17 homes, this system was installed more than 30 years ago because the streets are in a low-lying area where private septic tanks like those behind most of the homes and businesses in Brooklet wouldn’t always work.
Lately, some businesses along Parker Avenue in the heart of downtown Brooklet have a similar problem. This is especially true of El Maguey Mexican Restaurant. Husband and wife team Genaro and Celeste Carmona opened the restaurant two years ago, and business has been good enough that they are now completing an expansion to a second storefront next door.
But the septic tank behind the original restaurant fills up and the water does not drain away quickly enough. So the restaurant owners hire a septic tank service company to pump it out – frequently.
“We’ve had to pump it like two, three times a week, and that costs like $400, at least, for one time,” Genaro Carmona said.
Lately business has been a little slower, but the septic truck is still needed once a week, he said. At times the restaurant has had to close its restrooms.
Some neighboring businesses have also experienced septic system issues, at a slower pace.
Engineer’s conceptBrooklet’s mayor and council were made aware of this and asked City Engineer Wesley Parker to come up with some possible solutions. He presented his idea for the downtown sewer system during a City Council meeting back on June 17.
He explained that a septic tank only traps solids, and the wastewater then flows on through pipes to seep into the earth, underground in a drain field. But look behind those businesses along the avenue and you won’t see much open ground.
“They just don’t have a lot of land to get rid of the water,” Parker said. “So, some of it’s not working. When it doesn’t work, the businesses will call the septic tank pumping company just to get some relief.”
But the city already owns a piece of land, on Railroad Street outside of downtown, that could be used for a drain field, he reported. Councilman Nicky Gwinnett described it as about 12 acres on the outbound right-hand side of the street beyond where the community center is on the left. Only about two acres would be useful for this purpose, Parker said.
“We had a soil scientist come look at that with respect to will this land take the water, after it’s been through a septic tank, and the answer is, fortunately, yes,” he reported.
His plan is to connect the downtown business locations, including those currently vacant, through typical sewer system pipes that would be installed on that end, to one electrically powered “grinder pump.” This pump would push the sewage through another buried pipe along Railroad Street to two large holding tanks for the settlement of solids.
From there, the wastewater would go to a pumping tank, which when filled to a certain point would send the water out through a more pipes to spread out in the drain field.
“You basically have enough room there now to do downtown, the existing businesses, the ones that are empty as well, and maybe have a little bit of expansion,” Parker told Brooklet’s mayor and council. “You could take care of downtown with this system.”
But it would have to be approved by the state Environmental Protection Division, he said, since the Bulloch County Health Department only approves “onsite” septic systems. In other words, to qualify for Health Department approval, the septic tank must be on the same property with the building served.
Rough cost estimate
Councilman Bradley Anderson, who reports on Brooklet’s city finances, asked the engineer for a cost estimate.
Parker estimated $75,000 for the grinder pump and just a two-inch pipe to get to the field, then about $50,000 for the network of pipes in the field, $15,000 for the pumps there and $40,000 for the tanks. Costs such as permitting, soils investigation, engineering and handling the bids could bring the total to about $225,000, he said.
But then he noted that pipelines would also have to be constructed behind the businesses to the main pump.
So Anderson suggested $275,000 as a total cost estimate, and Parker agreed that could be right. That was a month ago, and they said a more precise estimate would be developed later. Anderson also wanted to know the expected lifespan of the system, to amortize the cost for financing. Parker observed that the Goodman Street system had worked for more than 30 years and only needed repairs recently.
The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority was mentioned as a low-interest loan source for city sewer projects. Of course, the property owners or tenant businesses would be expected to pay fees to operate the system and repay any loan.
Larger system later?
Gwinnett and Brooklet Mayor Joe Grooms III suggested that the downtown system could be an entry point for Brooklet eventually to create a city-wide sewer system, especially considering private developers’ recent interest in building residential subdivisions. Grooms and Gwinnett recalled that Brooklet turned down an opportunity more than 20 years ago to develop a system that would tie into Statesboro’s.
“We’ll never get a sewer system in this town if we don’t start somewhere,” Gwinnett said.
He suggested that the downtown system be designed so that it can be connected to a larger system later and the drain field abandoned then. Parker noted that this could be enabled by installing “full-size” pipes behind the businesses.
Gwinnett and Grooms at first said the most pressing need was to find a way to keep El Maguey in business in downtown Brooklet. Anderson phrased it differently, saying he didn’t think it was the council’s responsibility to intervene on behalf of a particular business.
“That’s not our role. …,” he said. “I think it is our role to look at it in terms of the longevity and the livelihood of downtown. So if we need to invest in something to help facilitate that so it doesn’t dry up and so that we can continue to have a thriving downtown, I think that’s our business.”
Before they left the June 17 meeting, Brooklet officials agreed to contact the downtown property owners along both sides of Parker Avenue for their response at a future meeting. Phoned last week, Gwinnett said the city sent letters inviting property owners, about five or six in all, to meet with council members and Parker at 5:30 p.m. this Thursday before the regular 7 p.m. council meeting.
After sending the letters last week, City Clerk Lori Phillips said Tuesday she had not heard from most of the property owners and would be making calls Wednesday to see if they will attend.