More concrete costs will be obtained in the coming weeks for the installation of a grit chamber at the Sampson County Detention Center, a crucial piece of equipment that would address recurring problems posed by foreign items flushed into the city of Clinton’s sanitary sewer system.
The Sampson County Board of Commissioners earlier this week authorized the city of Clinton to solicit formal bids for the equipment, which would be fully funded by the county and likely operated and maintained by city personnel at a monthly cost.
A draft agreement for the installation, maintenance and operation of the grit chamber by the city has been discussed in generalities but no such agreement has officially been signed off on. The issue has been a topic of discussion over the past several weeks.
During an Oct. 1 meeting, Public Works director Lee Cannady and Dewberry engineers presented five potential resolutions to the sewage issue, including a mechanical bar screen, grinder system, a manual bar screen, septic tank with effluent screens and a basket strainer with plug valve, noting the pros and cons with each system and offering a comparison of estimated costs, personnel needs, potential locations and ongoing maintenance.
Quotes received for a Sampson-specific grit chamber far exceeded the $80,000 previously placed in reserve by the county, with the cost for the originally proposed grinder and bar screen combination at double that amount — $168,205.40.
The matter was carried forward to this week’s meeting for further discussion. All alternatives were again placed on the table, along with the original bids obtained by the city.
Following the Oct. 1 session, Commissioner Albert Kirby, county manager Ed Causey and Cannady met with city manager John Connet and public works director Jeff Vreugdenhil to discuss their proposal to re-bid the planned improvements to obtain updated prices. Additionally, a memorandum of agreement was drafted that would cover the city’s installation, operation and maintenance of the equipment purchased by the county.
“They were very gracious in trying to work with us,” Causey said. “They were certainly willing to, if you wanted to pursue that option, go out and do a rebidding and then put your package together and come back with a final cost and take a look at it.”
Kirby said a higher price tag on the front end might be a necessary evil to prevent costs toward continual maintenance and not completely resolving the problem. As the county is not in the “sewer business,” striking a deal with the city to look after the operation would also be beneficial, the commissioner noted.
“It looks like most of the options we looked at ended up being penny wise and pound foolish, when you talk about cost,” said Kirby. “In the end, most of them are not going to work because you’re going to have some type kind of effluence in the system and you’ll end up being in violation of the statute anyway. The most viable alternative would be to somehow take the city’s proposal.”
Kirby said he talked with Vreugdenhil about the $160,000 price tag, which he said was “on the high end.” Vreugdenhil said that was a proposal, and a formal bidding process may bring a lower cost.
“He said it might be a good idea to rebid it anyway,” Kirby said. “From just my personal observation, it would seem the most viable option would be to let the city do a bid on it, and then find out which would be the lowest among the ones that are there at the lift station now.”
At a planning session in early 2011, Cannady, Causey and Sheriff Jimmy Thornton informed commissioners of problems experienced at the Clinton lift station due to debris flushed in the Detention Center toilets, including wrappers, paper towels and other refuse not intended to be discarded through the septic system. Any kind of foreign matter in the lift station can mean fines and other punishments, and city officials have previously raised concerns of possible violations handed down by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the fines for which would be passed along to the county.
Inmates have flushed various items such as Styrofoam, plastic ware, chip bags and other snack packaging, as well as other items including mop heads, towels and razors, county officials said. The county was told that, while having a filtering device in place should have been standard practice when the facility was constructed, it was not required at the time.
Cannady noted the benefits of installing the grit chamber at a secluded spot on the city’s property and it being operated by city workers who, unlike Sampson County Public Works and Detention Center employees, are trained in the sewer business.
The issue was discussed during budget deliberations last year and the grit chamber, at a cost of $80,000, was subsequently included in the 2011-12 budget. Those funds are still there to be spent.
Kirby said the city’s re-bidding could bring the $168,000 down a bit for the county. Even though the city previously declined to participate in any cost share, city personnel said maintenance is an option.
“We already have $80,000 set aside,” said Kirby. “It’s going to end up being, after you bid it, less than $80,000. That’s assuming it got lower than the $160,000 that they’re talking about.”
“If they got lower, it would be less than another $80,000 you would have to appropriate to do this,” finance officer David Clack added.
As far as maintenance, the city could cover it at a nominal cost.
According to a sample agreement, the county would pay $250 per month to the city for the cost of electricity and minor incidentals needed for the city to operate the grit chamber. The city would agree to oversee installation of the grit chamber and its operation and, in cases of major repairs or replacement, the agreement would need to be renegotiated, the sample agreement states.
“The city’s personnel would look after it,” said Kirby. “It would be all on them.”
“Based on my experience,” Causey added, “that seems to be a reasonable proposition.”
Kirby said the specifications for the project were already known and bids could be solicited “pretty quick,” possibly by December’s meeting. Even if it was a little later, Causey said there was some leeway as a good faith effort is being made to take steps toward compliance.
“I think once everyone understands that there is a pretty positive effort moving forward to get something done, I think there is built in flexibility,” Causey said.
Commissioner Jefferson Strickland made a motion to move forward, authorizing the city to bid the project and bring costs before the board to be approved with the stipulation that cost “be reasonable.” The motion was approved unanimously.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.