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Hawkins commissioners reluctantly move forward with $366,000 jail sewer upgrade

Jeff Bobo • Jul 10, 2019 at 2:55 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Although it was with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, Hawkins County commissioners on Tuesday authorized engineers to move forward with design of an estimated $366,000 jail sewer upgrade.

The project involves installation of a system on Justice Center sewer lines that will catch and grind up debris flushed down commodes in the Hawkins County Jail before it reaches the Rogersville system.

Two years ago, materials suspected to be jail uniforms and commissary food packaging were blamed for causing a sewer system backup in Rogersville that flooded three businesses.

As a result of that incident, the state had mandated that both the county and city make improvements to their sewer systems to ensure that doesn't happen again.

It's been a tough pill to swallow for the cash-strapped county commission, which hasn't been enthusiastic about paying that much money because jail inmates are apparently putting trash and debris into the sewer system.

In February, engineers Dean Helstrom and Marios Georgiou from the firm of Vaughn and Melton presented the Public Buildings Committee a proposed solution that would cost at least $450,000 and include an automated conveyor system that either bags the debris or compacts it into a dumpster for easy removal.

The committee rejected that proposal and asked the engineers to return with less expensive options.

On Tuesday, Helstrom and Georgiou presented the committee with two options.

Option 1 features an electric grinder, inclined mechanical screen, and a debris compactor unit for an estimated $366,000.

Option 2 features an electric grinder, vertical mechanical screen, and a compactor unit for an estimated $381,000.

Helstrom and Georgiou recommended option 1, which aside from being less expensive is also likely to result in less maintenance.

The committee voted 6-0 to authorize Helstrom and Georgiou to move forward with the option 1 design, which the engineers said should be completed within a month.

Upon completion, they will return to the committee seeking approval to advertise for bids.

As for funding, Budget Committee Chairman John Metz, who also sits on the Public Buildings Committee, said that will be discussed at the budget workshop scheduled for Monday at 3 p.m.

Most likely the cost of the project would be earmarked in the proposed 2019-20 budget so that when the bids come in the Public Buildings Committee and Mayor Jim Lee can accept the low bid without having to seek another vote of the full commission.

Committee Chairman Rick Brewer said he was surprised by the “excessive” cost of piping and concrete for the project, which were $31,250 and $63,750, respectively.

“To make the grades work we have to actually go upstream to bring the grade to a lower grade because we need a greater vertical separation based on the type of equipment we're using,” Helstrom explained. “So instead of it just coming in at the normal grade we actually have to go back to a point where we can adjust the grade enough that it will be coming in at a higher elevation to be able to drop down and then out.”

Georgiou explained that a bypass will have to be built to keep sewage flowing wile the new system is installed, which is also reflected in the cost of the pipe.

As for the concrete, Helstrom and Georgiou noted that a pre-cast 6-foot-by-20-foot concrete box will be created to house the new system at a depth of 8-10 feet.

“I don’t see where we’ve got a choice,” said Commissioner Keith Gibson. “We’ve got to do this to put it out for bid. I hate to spend this much money, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

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