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Pine Grove Sewage Problems Continue

May 30, 2018
BY ED PARSONS - Staff Writer (eparsons@tylerstarnews.com) , Wetzel Chronicle

Residents of Pine Grove say they are dealing with a potential health crisis due to raw sewage.

Meanwhile, town officials are crossing their fingers that the town will receive much-needed grant funding to complete the remaining phases of the replacement of an out-dated vacuum collection sewage system with a conventional gravity collection system.

In the meantime residents say raw sewage, due to a malfunctioning sewage system, is coming from drains into their yards and basements.

Article Photos

Photo by Ed Parsons
Debris and sewage materials appear to come out of a pipe in a Pine Grove resident’s yard.

Residents say the issue has been going on for the past few years; they say they are now experiencing difficulty breathing and are suffering sore throats, eye infections, and even heart problems. These residents say they feel their health concerns are being taken lightly by town officials, and not enough is being done to correct the ongoing conditions.

"This is not something that cannot be overlooked any longer," said resident Gary Davis at a gathering of concerned residents, held at Mason's Depot last week. "I worked for the town, and I know this can be corrected. Yet, (town officials) continue to deny the problem; they say it will all be taken care of when phase three of the sewer system is finished. I don't think we can wait that long. At this point it is not even started, and as far as we know, no plans are even in the works to get it started."

Mary Huggins said she has not dealt with sewage issues at her residence; however, her concern lies with her father, who is 87-years-old and lives next to Valley High School.

"I have pictures to prove what is happening. His kitchen and living area is in the bottom of his home; it's where I grew up, and we spent all of our time as a family."

Huggins said raw sewage comes into her father's home via the commode. She said her family first believe a faulty commode seal was causing the problem but soon learned residents all over the town were experiencing issues. Huggins' family replaced the commode seal on her father's toilet, and they also utilized a sewer snake. However, the line was clear. Huggins said every few days the sewage comes back. She is highly concerned about her father's health.

"He uses the downstairs commode, and he has a bed downstairs. I am afraid the sewage smell and sewage gas is making him sick."

Huggins said her father still has to pay his sewage bill in full, though she has requested a discount due to the lack of service.

This reporter toured some of the areas where residents' claim the problem is the worst. In the Alley Addition area of town, it appeared sewage was seeping out of the sewage pits and onto the streets. There was an odor, which was burning to the eyes, nose, and throat.

Going into the basement of a resident's rental home, one could observe about two inches of what appeared to be sewage. The property owner said an elderly couple rents the home from her and her parents. She said both individuals had currently become ill and were in the hospital recovering. The property owner said she was unable to find a solution to the sewage, and she said the town doesn't seem to care.

This is not the first time the sewage woes have been reported. In August 2017, Pine Grove Mayor Barbara King had told the Chronicle she wants to make sure the town's then-malfunctioning sewer and water systems were properly fixed. "I'd rather it take a long time and have it done right," she said. "I want to make sure it is up and running the way it is supposed to be," she had said.

During that time, help for Pine Grove had come from several directions. Dominion Energy Transmission Inc. purchased a new pump for the town after one of the town's sewage system pumps quit working. Also, in August 2017, five members of Hurricane, W.Va.'s Mobile Infrastructure Response Team worked on the sewage system, while Mark West personnel assisted the town with building controllers for the sewer pits.

Mayor King had also reported that she had been keeping the Department of Environmental Protection updated of the situation.

Jacob Glance, of the WVDEP, was asked May 24, 2018 if the WVDEP is aware of the situation. He noted, "Yes, the WVDEP's Environmental Enforcement (EE) section is aware of the ongoing issues with the sewer problems in the Town of Pine Grove. Our EE inspectors have been on site several times just in the last couple months performing inspections."

"Pine Grove was issued a consent order that detailed the steps that will need to be taken to address these issues. One of those steps is to provide EE a Plan of Corrective Action that will show how the town plans to fix these problems. EE is currently working with the Town as they develop an acceptable POCA to address these ongoing violations. In the meantime, EE continues to monitor the situation in Pine Grove."

The 2017 WVDEP Order to Pine Grove references issues dating back to 2016. The Order states that on October 20, 2016, WVDEP personnel conducted an inspection of Pine Grove's sewage collection and treatment system for the direct discharge of treated wastewater. Several violations were observed and documented, including the following: failure to implement a program to identify and eliminate sources of inflow and infiltration; failure to perform a daily inspection of the ultraviolet disinfection facilities, which includes maintaining a written log; failure to properly operate and maintain the facility.

It was also noted that the town failed to report any noncompliance "which may endanger health or the environment immediately after becoming aware of the circumstances by using the designated spill alert telephone number."

Also, two Orders were issued in 2017 by the Public Service Commission in response to two separate complaints submitted by two separate Pine Grove residents who alleged raw sewage in their yards.

In each case, the PSC ordered that Pine Grove do the following: isolate the vacuum pit from the surrounding field to prevent outside water from entering the pit chamber; install gaskets (o-ring) on the pit lid to seal off water from entering the pit; repair the spare control sensors to have available for emergency use in the affected areas; cross train its operators with the training provided by experienced operators/manufacturing facility, and have its operators inspect the affected areas during heavy rain events to ensure its system is working.

It was also ordered that the town prioritize and make urgent obtaining funding to complete the remaining phases of the replacement of the vacuum collection system with a conventional gravity collection system.

Currently, residents say they make calls to the city building daily concerning sewage overflow and are told someone will arrive to work on the problem. These residents claim no one arrives. Residents claim they have also contacted political representatives and other government entities but have not seen any help.

"This is not a new problem, we have been fighting this for four or five years. At one point my family went 138 days without a working sewage system. We went in buckets for all that time, and it then went into the creek. We washed our bodies and our hair outside with a water hose," resident Kathy Watson said.

John Watson, Kathy's husband, said his family is now hooked to the new, gravity feed sewage system. "Our problems, so far, are over," he said.

"We would walk into our home, and it would smell like sewer gas to bad you couldn't breathe. I cleaned gallon after gallon of raw sewage out, because it was up to the floor in my basement. I couldn't put it down the drain," he said.

"I can still smell it," Kathy commented.

Tabatha Mason, of Mason's Depot, said she has begun keeping track of the days her business has sewage-related problems. She said there are days she and her employees cannot use the restroom, due to the issue. "There are only three hours of the day we have two people working. Sometimes, if a worker needs to go to the restroom, they will have to lock up the store and leave. They will try not to drink things all day long They should be able to use the restroom."

Resident Jennifer Parker said the smell from the raw sewage is horrendous.

"I had my entire family in for Mother's Day. We were going to have a cookout, but we had to go inside," she noted.

This past week, the Pine Grove Post Office experienced sewage issues. The employee working behind the counter said he was filling in for the Post Master who was off for the day. "When I came in on May 21 both toilets had completely overflowed, and (sewage) had come out of both the men and women's sinks and our utility sink, which is our mop sink. It is still in it. I can literally show you it."

He said as soon as he opened the doors to the post office, he could smell an odor. "It looked like a murder scene," he said

Several of Pine Grove's residents described problems with the town's workers. Mr. Watson noted the workers would claim the problem was with the Watsons' system, even though Mr. Watson had utilized a sewer snake to ensure his line was clear. Watson also stated instances of when the town was allegedly offered help from outside sources yet declined.

Laci Streets said she was told by town officials that workers were at her home, working on her sewage system.

"They were not there. They never showed up," Streets said of the workers.

Streets said she shares a sewer "pit" with neighbor Melanie Utt.

"Within hours, we are full again. We've been clogged for a year." Fellow residents noted that Streets' sewage causes a traffic hazard in the winter, as the liquid flows into the Streets' driveway and further, into the road.

Kristy Bassett is experiencing raw sewage in her backyard. She said she was told by three different council members that the issue should be fixed, "because they charged overtime to get it fixed."

Meanwhile, Huggins said town workers removed a device from her father's sewage system and stated "Maybe it will work on another pit."

Resident Darlene Cross, though she wants quick action - like the other residents, wasn't completely critical of town officials. She noted Mayor King and council "are in over their heads, big time."

"When Barbara took that job as mayor, she really thought she could make a difference. She had no idea what she was getting into."

Mayor King herself said the town is in an emergency situation. "We don't have any city workers; they have resigned and as of now, we are doing what we can to alleviate the problem."

"We have a combined sewer board and council meeting set for June 11, but until then we will continue to battle the problem."

She acknowledged there are sewage problems and said town officials are doing all they can to comply with the agencies' orders, but without workers and funds it's next to impossible. As for the allegations the town has refused help from outside agencies, King said this is not true.

"We will accept any legitimate help we can get, but it has to be from people who know what they're doing. We don't have the expertise or the funds to just start redoing the whole system. People have to understand there will have to be a rate increase, and Phase Three (the replacement of the vacuum system) will need completed before the problem will be completely resolved."

"Right now we have hired, back on a part-time basis, one of our past town workers, and he and another of our employees are out cleaning out the sewer pits and getting things flowing like they are supposed to. We have also had some hard rains, and when that happens, the run-off comes into the sewer lids and overflows the system."

King said she was never made aware there was a problem at the post office, and will certainly look into the issue.

"I will have someone check it out."

She noted, "I am not going to take responsibility for all the problems. I inherited most of this, and I will try my best to get the town of Pine Grove back to the way it used to be."

 
 
 

 

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