Police and fire personnel close down Center Street as vapors rise from a sewer leak Thursday at Weyerhaeuser. Ned Jilton II photo.
KINGSPORT - Operations at Weyerhaeuser's downtown Kingsport paper mill resumed Friday afternoon following a sewer leak that forced the plant to halt operations Thursday night.
Plant Manager Charlie Floyd said a "pluggage" in the mill's sewer system was the culprit.
"We located the pluggage and were able to free it up at a little after 8 o'clock this morning. So we're flushing everything out, and we'll be back to normal operations probably by noon today," Floyd said Friday.
The leak sent wastewater pouring onto city streets and into Reedy Creek Thursday night. Floyd said all equipment was shut down except for the plant's boilers, which were left on to prevent frozen pipes.
Floyd said he believes the sewer was plugged up as a result of a plant shutdown earlier in the week for some maintenance and repairs.
"All of the effluent that we create here that we treat has some of what we call suspended solids in it, and when we have a shutdown, that effluent flow decreases substantially, and if those suspended solids are heavy, they'll settle out wherever they get a wide spot in the line. And I think what happened, things just settled out because the flow was so low, and then when we picked up flow, it just plugged," Floyd said.
He described the suspended solids as "mud or grit."
"It plugged solid, and the water had nowhere to go, and we started backing up," Floyd said.
Once the stoppage was flushed out, flow resumed back to normal, he said.
Floyd said he and other plant officials walked the creek banks Friday morning and could see no detrimental impacts to the environment.
"As best I can tell, I think all of our folks handled the issue appropriately, and we did the best we could and shut down as quickly as we could to minimize any environmental issues," Floyd said.
He said the plant may put in place measures to divert system flow to prevent similar leakages from occurring in the future.
"These things are so infrequent, but because we don't have the ability to stop it from going into the creek, we will certainly consider putting something like that in there so we can react to it," Floyd said.
"While you always hate for things like this to happen, you deal with it and try to figure it out and do better next time," he said.