City OKs sewer ordinance

Clinton Public Works director Jeff Vreugdenhil addresses City Council during a recent meeting. The Council has adopted an amended sewer use ordinance addressing proper use and operation of private lift stations.

The City of Clinton has officially laid out how it wants some 75 private lift stations across town to be maintained for now and into the future, a necessary step toward avoiding sewer system issues down the line.

An amended sewer use ordinance addressing the maintenance of such stations was unanimously adopted during a recent City Council meeting.

Public Works director Jeff Vreugdenhil said bi-annual mailers will also be sent to those who own private lift stations as an “extra customer service to try to alleviate problems and give homeowners and business owners information” on rules and procedures for operating those stations. It is an “area of concern that Public Works has had for many years,” he said.

Some residences and businesses in the city are located at a lower elevation than the existing sewer mains, requiring a lifting device to pump wastewater up to an elevation where gravity can take over and the wastewater can travel through the rest of the sewer system. Without those pumps, wastewater has the potential to back up into the residence or business, resulting in damage to the property.

However, there has been no clear guidance for the maintenance of those private pumps, prompting a proposed the amendments to the Sewer Use Ordinance. The amended ordinance was first proposed in February and has been discussed among Council and affected residents in recent months.

A significant annexation of Fox Lake and Coharie Country Club in the 1980s saw many existing pumps attached to the line. While the lift stations are not limited to those neighborhoods, Vreugdenhil said those residents were likely informed that the city would install lift stations and maintain them.

“And for the gross majority of those, the city has maintained them,” Vreugdenhil stated.

However, for some homes built after the annexation, the city’s maintenance of private lift stations has varied. Vreugdenhil said the goal is to be fair to everyone, while protecting the city’s sewer system. City staff proposed, and Council ultimately concurred, that the city would take over maintaining individual business and residential lift stations with no additional fee — but punitive measures are in place for those who violate the ordinance.

“We will take over (future lift stations) as well, however that lift station has to be built to the city’s specifications, so it fits our system,” City manager Shawn Purvis has noted. “If that homeowner does not want to build to the city’s specs then that will be their lift station and we will not maintain it.”

Those specifications are outlined in the modified ordinance.

Currently, pump type and size, ownership, responsibility for maintenance and repair and liability for damages that may result from improper maintenance are not regulated under the city’s Sewer Use Ordinance. Without clear requirements for proper use and maintenance it is also resulting in “unnecessary sanitary sewer back-ups and overflows and creating potential environmental and public health issues,” Vreugdenhil stated.

The city is sending biannual mailings to owners of lift stations detailing what can be flushed into the system and what cannot.

According to the ordinance, “the property owner shall bear the cost of repairs required and any damage to private property due to negligence or misuse of any private pump/lift station.”

“Negligence or misuse includes violations of the City of Clinton Sewer Use Ordinance, specifically … disposing of sand, rock, gravel, metal, wipes/cloths, paper of a thickness greater than average bathroom tissue, fats, oils, greases, or any other substance that cannot reasonably be expected to be pumped or lifted and conveyed by a private pump/lift station,” a portion of the adopted ordinance stated. “In addition, a misuse service fee of a minimum of $250 shall apply.”

“If it’s just normal wear and tear that is on us,” Vreugdenhil has noted. “Normally when we have to report to a pump there was something in it that was not supposed to be flushed.”

“If we go out there and something like that was flushed, there is going to be a charge,” Purvis added. “Even that charge is probably not going to cover the work we have to do to fix it. That fee will be nominal compared to the work we have to do.”

City officials said there would be some education done for lift station owners before fees are assessed, the reason for the comprehensive mailers.

“We’re going to take them over and handle it,” said Purvis, “that way we know who’s responsible and it makes us consistent.”

For more information, contact the City of Clinton Public Works and Utilities at 910-299-4905.