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Town uses utility project to fix long-term problems

Rex Barber • Apr 3, 2012 at 10:48 PM

Some old sewer line problems in Jonesborough have been fixed while the town is replacing utilities that run under Main Street, including a problem that several times caused the town’s historic Presbyterian church to flood with sewage.

Mayor Kelly Wolfe said Jonesborough Presbyterian Church’s sewage line was connected to the Washington County Detention Center until about a month ago. This line would get clogged with junk and debris from the jail that would eventually work its way to the church, where it would flow out onto the property.

“The first time was a catastrophic sewage flood that covered the entire ground floor of the church with three or four inches of sludge,” said Wolfe, who is also a member of the church.

He said the sludge that flowed into the church had all manner of debris, including toothbrushes, syringes, parts of mattresses and jail uniforms.

“I will never forget the call from the pastor telling me to come down,” Wolfe said. “And she was standing on the front sidewalk watching the sludge coming out of the building.”

This happened about seven or eight years ago.

Wolfe used his company, Wolfe Development, to repair the damage. It took about five months to renovate the building and clean up the damage to the historic building, which was erected in 1845.

The town carried insurance to handle such occurrences at that time and the claim on the church flood was between $70,000 and $80,000. That insurance has since been discontinued, but the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen at its last meeting voted to establish a wastewater liability fund if such disasters happen in the future due to a problem with the town’s sewer system.

“We’ve established a fund at this point with strict criteria and a committee to determine ... any expenses that would give folks a little bit of relief if something like this happens again,” Wolfe said.

The town would allocate $10,000 each year for the next five years into the fund account. If no claims are paid in a year, the account funds would roll over until $50,000 is accumulated.

There were two other smaller backups in the church after the major flood.

Wolfe said the problem was the jail did not have an operating grinder pump on its sewage line. When the George P. Jaynes Justice Center was completed in 2009 the grinder became fully operational. The grinder helped but it was not a guarantee to prevent future sewage backup.

So, when the town began a massive project to repair and replace old utility lines along Main Street about three months ago, it was the perfect opportunity to run a new sewage line for the church, Wolfe said.

“It wouldn’t make sense to not do it while all that work’s going on,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe said some other utility problems that were easily accessible due to the project have been remedied, as well.

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