Last March, Rogersville Water Department employees removed a sewer line clog that flooded three Main Street businesses.
Among the items removed from the sewer were strips of cloth believed to be parts of inmate jumpsuits from the nearby Hawkins County Jail.
Both the city of Rogersville and Hawkins County Jail are under state order to upgrade their sewer systems and to install whatever components are necessary to catch materials and prevent future clogs.
On Tuesday, Hawkins County Buildings Manager Alana Roberts told the county commission’s Buildings Committee about some of the possible options and what’s being done at other jails in the region.
But an engineer will have to study the jail sewer problem and make a recommendation. The only action approved by the committee Tuesday was authorizing the county mayor to acquire an engineer to design the project.
Roberts noted that several jails are using a grinder system to break down solids and prevent clogs.
However, those grinders won’t work on cloth material such as jumpsuits and sheets, which Hawkins County inmates are apparently flushing down their commodes.
“It’s not small things that are going through the system,” Roberts told the committee. “It’s larger things like jumpsuits, towels, underwear — sheets sometimes. How they get a sheet down there, I don’t know, but some of the other counties have experienced that.”
Another, more plausible solution might be a rake/screen system that deposits materials into a container that would have to be manually emptied periodically.
Ideally, Hawkins County would want to use the same engineer that Rogersville is using since they’re connected and the jail empties into the Rogersville sewer system. Roberts noted, however, that Rogersville’s engineer is retiring.
But the city’s engineer did suggest that the rake/screen system would last longer and require less maintenance.
“(Rogersville) is waiting to see what we do,” Roberts said. “I think they and the engineer I talked to felt it would be good if we used similar type of equipment. What they’re trying to do is catch all large debris from us before it gets into their system, because if it’s going to give us a problem, it will eventually give them a problem.”
Committee Chairman Darrell Gilliam asked Roberts to fast-track this project.
Roberts is retiring at the end of August, and with the committee now meeting only quarterly, Gilliam said it would be best if the project is completed before Roberts leaves to keep the jail from falling out of state compliance.