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Sewer concerns get heated in Watertown

Jared Felkins • Jul 18, 2018 at 7:20 PM

Watertown sewer operator Dale Smith and Mayor Mike Jennings sparred a bit about operations at the wastewater treatment plant Tuesday evening during the city council’s regular meeting. 

In his report to the council, Smith said an incident took place July 8 at the wastewater treatment plant when pumps malfunctioned due to thermal overload and the wastewater holding reservoir overflowed. 

“There was a fish kill, but the guy with [Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation] said the creek would recover quickly.”

Jennings said 2,877 minnows and sun perch were killed, which added up to $476 in fish and $336 in TDEC labor. Smith suggested the addition of an alert system at the plant that would let him know in the event of a failure. 

“We haven’t had one of these in about 20 years or so,” Jennings said. 

But the source of contention was when Jennings asked Smith to provide maintenance records and a schedule of when the plant’s waste is collected by Wilson County. Smith said repeatedly the additional steps weren’t necessary. 

“I’m putting you on notice,” Jennings told Smith. “If you hold that position, we’re going to have problems.”

Smith responded, “We will dump the box when it needs to be dumped.”

Jennings said the waste was collected between 10-12 times per year in 2016 and 2017, but July’s collection was only the second in 2018. Smith, however, held his ground. 

At the end of the meeting, Alderman Brandy Holcomb asked Jennings and Smith to revisit the issue to “clear the air.” According to Jennings, the waste load weighed about 15 tons during the last collection, which was too heavy for the county’s cable system to lift and load onto the truck. 

Smith said the problem was rectified by draining some of the waste until it was light enough to load. He said the county’s recently bought cables from China weren’t as strong as those used in the past. 

“It shouldn’t be dictated by the mayor,” Smith said. 

Jennings responded, “That cannot happen again.”

Smith then explained the plant currently has old biological growth, which doesn’t reproduce as fast as new biological growth, which was there in the past. With the current old biological growth, Smith said the collections aren’t as frequent as in the past.

“What comes into that facility is a very small portion of what leaves,” Smith said. “We can accommodate [the county]. We can lessen the load in the amount that’s in the box.”

In other business, the council approved on final reading the changes to the sewer use ordinance that included state-approved limits on a 4-1 vote with Jennings against it. 

The council was also introduced to acting fire Chief Blake Haun, who replaced John Jewell when he retired at the end of July after about 20 years of service. Haun is a full-time firefighter with Gallatin Fire Department and previously served as training officer and then assistant chief in Watertown. He holds an associate’s degree in fire science from Volunteer State Community College. 

During his report, Haun said the department named Rob Westling as chaplain. He said Westling previously served as chaplain for the St. Louis Cardinals and Rams. 

The council plans to create a timeline and process to appoint a new fire chief at its August meeting. 

The council also:

• approved accepting sealed bids to sell a dump truck and lawnmower. 

• approved a resolution to declare “A Day of Prayer for Our Schools.”

• approved a payment to Bob Slade to compile a capacity, management, operations and maintenance report for the city to be submitted by Aug. 1. 

• limited the days residents can add brush to the burn pile to Wednesdays from 8 a.m. until noon by appointment only. 

The council recessed the meeting until Aug. 21 at 6 p.m. to approve the city’s budget on final reading. Jennings said the city collected about 94 percent of property taxes and had a $600,000 surplus in water and sewer. 

“We finished this year in a very strong financial position,” Jennings said. “With that said, we’ve got a major expense coming up with sewer repairs.”

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