Proposed screen will prevent Hawkins jail from causing more sewage floods

Jeff Bobo • Updated Aug 10, 2017 at 9:11 AM

ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office is accepting part of the responsibility for a clogged sewer line that caused a flood at three Rogersville businesses in March and all of the responsibility for fixing the problem.

HCSO Chief Deputy Tony Allen told the Times-News Wednesday the main issue affecting the sewer system from the jail is inmates flushing the plastic drink packets they get from the commissary down the toilets.

On Wednesday, Allen met with county buildings manager Alana Roberts to discuss possible solutions, including installation of a screen to catch the debris before it enters the Rogersville sewer system.

But the two are very early in the process. Roberts will place the issue on the agenda of the county commission’s Buildings Committee, and the final solution will have to be approved by the full commission.

Officials from the Rogersville Water Department are convinced that most, if not all, of the debris that caused the March 8 sewer overflow at 908 E. Main St. came from the jail.

That E. Main Street address is the location of a beauty shop, consignment shop, leather shop and a government office, all of which experienced damage and had to be closed temporarily for cleanup.

Water department staffer Travis Carpenter told the Rogersville Water Commission during Tuesday’s meeting that the sheriff’s office can either cooperate and install a screening system “or the state has told me they can come in and force a pre-treatment program on them and make them put it in.”

In March, the Water Commission agreed to install a sewer screen to catch debris coming out of the jail, but acting water superintendent Bill Pearson said that plan has changed.

“We need to divest ourselves from that,” Pearson told the Water Commission Tuesday. “We need to let them do that. It’s not ours. We’re still getting material. I mean, a lot of material.”

Allen told the Times-News he’s working on a solution, but he isn’t letting the jail take the rap for all of the debris that clogged the system and caused the flood in March.

“We all know some of that problem is from us, but all of that was not from us,” Allen said. “We do have an issue, but for me to say 100 percent of that was our problem — absolutely not. But I can tell you that we’ve got an issue and we’re looking into it.”

This is not just a Hawkins County issue, Allen added.

He said the state is cracking down on correctional facilities clogging sewers across Tennessee and requiring all new construction jails to include a sewage screening system to catch items being flushed by inmates.

“Unless I’ve got a corrections officer beside every inmate at every minute of the day, there’s no way that can be controlled,” Allen said. “We know those drink packets are an issue, and we’re trying to fix that. We want to be good neighbors. We want to do the right thing.”                                       

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