Sewage spills, water issues plague Port Wentworth residents

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After two sewage spills and a water tank issue that prompted a boil water advisory for some residents for several days, the Port Wentworth City Council met Monday to discuss their relationship with the city's water and sewer provider.

ClearWater Solutions has managed the city's water, wastewater, public services and sewer lift stations for three years. Their contract with the city expired June 30.

Though no votes were taken during the Monday workshop, Mayor Gary Norton and council members agreed any new agreement with ClearWater Solutions needs to include more specific guidance on the scope of the provider's responsibilities so that it can be held accountable for any future incidents.

"We're not here to bash ClearWater," said City Manager Edwin Booth during the workshop, "(but) the contract really doesn't have any specificity to it and that's why it's hard to hold a company accountable."

Mayor and council were also in favor of looking into a month-to-month contract and modeling that relationship after ClearWater Solutions agreement with Garden City. The neighboring municipality operates its own public works department that manages certain services and contracts out others to ClearWater Solutions.

Booth says the creation of a public works department would cost about the same as their current contract with ClearWater Solutions.

"Right now ClearWater is costing us $1,750,000. Garden City pays them about half of that, so if we took half of that, it would be enough for us to establish a public works and still pay ClearWater a fair profit," said Booth.

Top of mind for city officials and residents in attendance were the two major sewage spills that occurred in March and June of this year. The first spill, near the Waffle House off of August Road, was resolved. The second, which occurred at the intersection of Armadale Road and Osteen Street, is in the process of being resolved by the state.

During the workshop, Booth said he will have to ensure all lift stations are fixed so that another spill does not occur.

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According to Booth, the spills occurred due to faulty pipes that a subcontractor provided to ClearWater Solutions.

"We'd like to get a professional group to come in and rework all of the lift stations," said Mayor Gary Norton. "The pump that we had was not sufficient for what we needed and a line busted."

In addition, Norton suggested every lift station have a back-up pump along with other equipment such as a generator and hard pipe to assure safety.

The boiled water advisory was in effect between July 11 and July 13 for Port Wentworth residents north of Jimmy Deloach Parkway. The order resulted from a water tank pressure issue involving 350,000 gallons of water, which residents and the city fire department depend on.

According to discussions, an electrical failure of the alarm system caused a delay in ClearWater Solution's response to the pressure problem.

"Whenever the pressure goes below 20 pounds for more than 20 minutes, you put out a boil water notice, you have to take samples and turn them in because there is a possibility of contamination," said Booth, who noted that possibly was very low in this case.

Ray Rafalowski, a city resident who attended the workshop said he found out about the boiled water advisory through social media and then notified Rice Hope neighbors through Facebook.

"I don't know what happened to the rest of the community, but there were people calling the police department and not getting an answer," said Rafalowski.

Notices were sent out through the media and FEMA, but to reinsure the public receives notice in the future, advisories will be posted to the city website as well, the city manager said.

Booth says ClearWater Solutions has not reported any major issues until this year.

City council will further discuss its future relationship with ClearWater Solutions at its next regularly scheduled meeting on July 29.

"We'll sit down and talk through it and work it out. We want to do the best thing for the city ... we're here for the partnership," said Rick Ailiff, president of ClearWater Solutions.

Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at nguan@gannett.com or on Twitter @nancyguann.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Sewage spills, water issues plague Port Wentworth residents