Sewer line break forces evacuation of Unicoi County Jail

The Unicoi County Jail is located next to the county courthouse on Main Avenue in downtown Erwin

ERWIN — A sewer line break led to the evacuation of the Unicoi County Jail and the transfer of inmates to other facilities.

Sheriff Mike Hensley said the leak was detected last week and had affected the jail’s toilets, showers, laundry and kitchen.

Forty-eight inmates were transferred to Carter County detention facilities and 15 were taken to state correctional facilities in Morgan and Bledsoe counties Monday night and early Tuesday morning.

The sheriff said workers making repairs discovered the main sewer line beneath the jail had become clogged in several places and, because of its age, the line crumbled as the workers attempted to clear the clogs.

The line was more than 40 years old and had probably been in place since the jail was built in the 1970s, he said.

Hensley said sewer backup also made its way into air conditioning and heating vents in the basement of the jail and the heating and cooling system will have to be disassembled to reach them. Allied Pipe of Johnson City has begun work and estimates the repairs will take about a week.

According to Hensley, Mayor Greg Lynch was notified of the situation Tuesday morning. The county’s Building and Grounds Committee has surveyed the problems and everyone has agreed the county will meet the cost of the repairs. Insurance will cover a portion of the expense.

Hensley thanked Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford for housing the majority of the prisoners. He said 16 of the inmates taken to Carter County were state inmates for which the county receives housing reimbursement from the state.

“Once you send them back (to the state) it takes a while to get them back. By taking them to Carter County we will be able to get those inmates back when this is fixed rather than having to wait a month or two and that will help us on the revenues. Of course, he (Lunceford) will be reimbursed,” Hensley said.

The county courthouse, located next to the jail, and the jail annex for women located on Jackson Love Highway were not affected by the line break.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.