Portal city officials are working towards improving wastewater disposal and maintenance issues after the Georgia Environmental Protection Division mandated changes following an unpermitted discharge and sewage spill.
In February, EPD officials performed an inspection of the town’s wastewater retention pond, and found an overflowing "stand pipe" behind the pond off U.S. Highway 80 West between Chipper's Lane and Larry Smith Road, according to Bruce Foisy, district supervisor for EPD's Brunswick office.
The discovery followed about a year’s worth of violations, according to documents provided to the Statesboro Herald by EPD officials.
Portal Mayor Larry Motes and Portal city council members received a notice April 29, 2014 about previous discharge violations, including unacceptable levels of pollutants in the wastewater pond after treatment.
More notices of violations followed; letters June 3 and 30 alerted the mayor and council about violations for April and May 2014. A letter Aug. 22 referred to violations in July, 2014; a letter of violation Dec. 5 referred to violations in October, and a letter in January alerted city officials about violations in Dec. 2014.
Then, when EPD officials inspected the pond Feb. 3, they found “partially treated wastewater” coming from the overflow structure into a nearby creek. They noted that surface water from a nearby wetland was flowing through a pipe into the storage pond, which had overflowed its banks, “encroaching an irrigation pump station” and discharging unpermitted and partially treated sewage into a creek.
After the inspection earlier this year, Motes said that the water in the pond, which comes from the city's wastewater treatment facility nearby, is distributed into a spray field. He said the water in the pond is treated; however, Foisy said at the time of inspection, the water was only partially treated and could pose a danger of contamination.
The consent order issued by the EPD stated the city of Portal “did not maintain vegetative cover on the spray field” and mandated the city plant a permanent cover crop of Bermuda grass. In a response to the EPD consent order outlining plans to come into compliance, city officials stated the land has been leased and a crop will be established within 90 days.
Motes said Tuesday the problems were exacerbated by heavy rainfall last year. EPD officials cite a “combination of excessive rainfall, oversight of an overflow and infiltration pipe in construction of the holding pond, operator error and (city employees) not being familiar enough with the O&M (operations and maintenance) manual.”
Algae caused other discharge violations as well.
In the consent order response, Motes said the city will permanently seal and cap the overflow pipe to prevent unpermitted discharges; will make periodic checks to ensure proper performance and asked for a permit discharge increase to match other Land Application Systems of same type and size as Portal.
The consent order also mandates Portal city employees must monitor inflow, adjust practices according to rainfall amounts, and make inspections and repairs on a regular basis. The town must also report spills and noncompliance issues immediately. The discharge flow’s metering device has been calibrated and will be checked every six months, and the pump run times must be recorded daily and sewer collection lines checked for infiltration by rainfall.
After the inspection in February, EPD officials noted Portal employees did not make monthly inspections of flow and did not notify the EPD about noncompliance issues.
Motes said the city has used the pond for wastewater for about five years. He said the overflow did not affect Portal city residents, but Foisy was concerned about environmental impacts on nearby streams and bodies of water.E s
The water spilling from the pond eventually flowed into Little Lotts Creek, which feeds into Lake Collins and Oglesby's Pond.
"We fully expect this was a major spill," Foisy said, estimating the spill as exceeding 10,000 gallons.
Motes said the city was unaware of the problem with the discharge and pond overflowing until the EPD inspection. “No damage was done,” he said Tuesday.
The City of Portal also paid a fine of $1,000 as part of the settlement of the consent order. The overflow pipe was capped off shortly after the EPD inspection in February.
Foisy said it is unusual to find overflow pipes at such retention ponds, and wondered why there was one at Portal’s pond. Motes said he is unsure of reasons why the pipe and pond were constructed in that fashion.
The EPD is reviewing Portal’s submitted response to the consent order and the potential for future spills has been rectified, he said.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.