The Nashville Town Council has hired a firm to do a comprehensive study of Nashville’s sewer plant and operations — how the plant is working now, and what work it would need to take on any growth that might occur.
Generally, town sewer is available only to properties that are in town limits. However, there are some properties in town limits that don’t have town sewer, and there are some properties outside town limits that do. St. Agnes Catholic Church on McLary Road and the Brown County Music Center on Maple Leaf Boulevard being among the ones that do have sewer even though they’re not in town.
In 2018, the town council and the Brown County Regional Sewer District board came to an agreement that increased the size of the area to which the town would be allowed to extend sewer service. This would include homes and businesses within about a mile-and-a-half radius of town limits — basically, the natural “bowl” of Nashville’s topography — that are operating on septic systems right now and have no option for sewer service from any other provider, since the BCRSD has no sewer plant anywhere in the county.
Part of the sewer study that MS Consultants will be doing is seeing if and how the town could run sewer to these areas. The project scope says it will cover areas that “include but are not limited to Bean Blossom, Annandale Estates and Belmont.”
The study also will include gathering data on the condition of the lift stations and lines that currently feed sewage into the plant.
In addition, it will look into options to expand and/or rebuild the town’s sewer plant — a potentially major project.
Developing a sanitary sewer utility master plan was estimated to cost the town $74,500.
This doesn’t mean that the town will definitely do any of these projects; it is an effort to gather data and cost projections.
But first, there are some concerns with the current plant that need to be addressed.
The town’s wastewater treatment plant, on Treatment Plant Road along Salt Creek, sits in the floodway — the area most likely to be inundated with water in a flood. It was built in the early 1960s and renovated or expanded in the 1970s and 1980s. The most recent expansion was done around 2010 and cost $6.2 million, covered by grants and low-interest loans, according to newspaper archives.
On Oct. 3, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management notified Nashville Town Council President Jane Gore that it had “reason to believe” that the town wastewater treatment plant had violated environmental rules.
IDEM reported that the treatment plant had overflowed on Feb. 24, 2019, “and additional unreported overflows to waters of the state, not specifically authorized by the permit.” In those cases, the permit holder is supposed to orally report to IDEM within 24 hours of becoming aware of the occurrence and follow up with a written notice within five days. The town didn’t do that, IDEM said.
IDEM also told the town that it was in violation for disposing of waste treatment “solids, sludge, filter backwash or other pollutants” in a manner that they were able to enter a waterway.
In addition, IDEM noted that the town’s salt stockpile for roads had washed into Salt Creek after flooding. IDEM was there for inspections on Feb. 28 and March 8, the report said.
The town’s plant did not have an “ongoing preventative maintenance program,” or PMP, IDEM said. That was also a violation.
The town also was cited for not having enough staff working at the treatment plant “to ensure compliance with the conditions of the permit.”
IDEM wrote that it had sent summary inspection letters to the town on March 18 and March 21 “which required a response detailing actions taken to correct the violations. To date, IDEM has not received a response to the above noted violation and noncompliance letters, and the violations continue at the WWTP,” said a letter to the town signed by IDEM on Oct. 2.
IDEM sent the letter to Gore via certified mail on Oct. 3.
On Oct. 17, the town council voted unanimously, pending its attorney’s review of the contract, to pay MS Consultants up to $25,000 to prepare a “wastewater treatment plant agreed order of response,” including a preventative maintenance plan, an organizational evaluation and a compliance plan. This is separate and in addition to the sewer master plan.
In addition, IDEM fined the town $4,700 — an amount that could grow if more violations are found or they keep occurring.
Dax Norton, the town’s contracted strategic direction adviser through MS Consultants, said that the town needs to put these items into practice so that IDEM doesn’t take further action.
“The permit to run your plant is through IDEM. You don’t want to get into a situation where they may want to think about not giving you a permit,” he told the town council at the October meeting.
“That doesn’t mean that Nashville residents can’t flush, but it might mean that Nashville Utilities won’t get rate money when people do flush. Also, you don’t want to get the permitting process stopped for any new capacity for the plant or permission to use it.”
Robin Willey has worked at the Nashville wastewater treatment plant for 19 years. Last week, he said he’s happy to be getting more help.
Right now, he has four people including himself to rotate through shifts and responsibilities. In addition to running the treatment plant, they are the town street department and the water department, also fixing water leaks as they arise or overseeing when contractors have to be called in for bigger jobs.
Not too long ago, Willey and another staff member were out on medical leave for several months at separate times. Right now, Willey, 55, is the only person working at the plant who holds certifications to run it. Sometimes, that means he’s working 12 hours a day. He also runs Helmsburg’s wastewater treatment plant and the treatment system at Camp Moneto in Gnaw Bone.
He knows there are maintenance tasks that need to be done, like “jetting” all the sewer lines in town once a year, and making sure lift stations are working before they become emergencies, but he hasn’t had enough people to get it done.
Several years ago, the town’s wastewater and water departments were facing budget shortfalls, and some belt-tightening was done to keep expenses more in line with revenue. When the town council was discussing the 2020 budget earlier this fall, some council members had wanted to institute a hiring freeze, or at least a review process when jobs opened up to see if they really needed to be filled.
Willey said he’s happily showed some of the council members around the plant and explained how it works and what the staff are responsible for doing.
“I just don’t think some people are aware of how much is involved down here when they say, ‘They’re overstaffed.’ It’s starting to wear us out. It’s wearing me out. I’ve thought, ‘If somebody comes up with a better job close, I could leave.’
“But I’ve lived here for 30 years now, and raised my boys where I live, and I just — agh,” he said, with a dismissive wave. “I’m not at that age to want to move.”
Regarding the sludge that IDEM said had washed into the waterway, Willey said that there actually wasn’t sludge in those drying beds at the time IDEM visited, so he didn’t believe it had washed in. However, he said staff have begun using “geotubes” to collect the sludge and help dry it out more, before that dried material is hauled to a landfill in Greensburg.
One of the biggest concerns Willey is dealing with is what’s known as “I and I” or “I/I” — infiltration/inflow of water that is not wastewater into the wastewater system. This often comes in through cracks in the clay tile pipes that feed sewage into the treatment plant all over town. When it hasn’t been raining a lot, those cracks also allow sewage to go the opposite direction — seeping out through the pipes or manholes into the ground, Willey said. He believes that many of them are the original pipes installed more than 40 years ago. Some manholes have been coated more recently with a sealant and bolted down to try to prevent infiltration.
As part of the “agreed order” with IDEM which the town council approved on Nov. 21, within 30 days, the town must develop a preventative maintenance plan that includes eliminating sources of “I/I.” It also must report to IDEM on its staffing and organization.
Within 45 days, the town also must develop and submit a “compliance plan,” addressing the other issues at the plant which prompted the violations.
Willey said he’s pleased to have IDEM’s and MS Consultants’ help in getting some of these longstanding issues corrected.
“I like what I do. … I feel committed to what I do, and wanting to make sure it’s done right,” he said.
“The big thing is to get the infiltration (fixed). That’s the No. 1 thing we’ve got to focus on.”
That also will give town leaders a more accurate picture of how much capacity the plant has to treat wastewater.
On Nov. 1, a group of town employees, county health department representatives and consultants from MS Consultants met at Town Hall to discuss the scope of the contract for the town “sanitary sewer master plan.” It was not an advertised public meeting because no quorum of a board was present, but Norton invited the newspaper to attend.
The group included town council members Anna Hofstetter and David Rudd; town wastewater treatment plant staff Sean Cassiday and Willey; county health department employees John Kennard and Ernie Reed; and MS Consultants employees Dan Cutshaw, Norton and Nathan Delisle.
In addition to gathering data about the treatment plan’s condition, capacity, operations and the parts that feed wastewater into it, MS Consultants will look at what would need to be done to hook on additional customers — whether that’s from new development or from connecting nearby homes and businesses to it that are on septic systems now.
One idea floated at that meeting was building a new town wastewater treatment plant somewhere else. The consultants believed that the town would have a hard time getting approval from the state to expand its current plant since it sits in the floodway.
In the midst of that discussion, Kennard brought up the fact that there are more than 1,200 homes in the Cordry-Sweetwater area that have no sewer access. If the plant was going to be moved or a new one built, he wondered if it could be put in a place that would allow more people, especially those in a densely-built area, to get sewer access. No decisions were made about that possibility.
Kennard told the group that the biggest problem they’re going to run into when talking about extending sewer access is if the town insists on forcing annexation. In-town residents of Nashville pay higher taxes than residents whose post office address may say “Nashville,” but actually live in Washington Township rather than in town. Historically, the town has required a “waiver of annexation” from new sewer customers outside town, which basically says that they won’t fight annexation if the town council ever decided it wanted to extend town limits to include them.
Norton was going to look into whether the rules of annexation had changed recently; he believed they had. He also was going to work with the sewer study team to craft some “policy language” around that topic.
“This can be a friendly effort,” he said about extending sewer to new customers. Instead of being annexed, maybe sewer customers who lived outside town boundaries could pay a different sewer rate instead, like some town water customers who live outside town limits already do, he said.
Hofstetter also asked the consultants if it would be possible to look into wastewater treatment systems that would recycle water in a way that it could be made potable. Though it’s “kind of a gross idea,” she said she was thinking about Nashville’s long-term access to water, since it has to buy all the water its customers get from outside sources. Cutshaw said that would involve a separate system from what they’re looking at with this study, but water recycling is being done elsewhere in the United States.
Willey said last week that he has opinions and suggestions about how the town’s wastewater treatment plant could operate more effectively, which he’s shared with MS Consultants. Their report — including suggestions of how to pay for all this potential work — is due back in March.
Willey also has talked with another engineer, Ethel Morgan, who’s doing a separate study about the feasibility of the Helmsburg Regional Sewer District and the Brown County Regional Sewer District working together in some way. That report is due to be finished around the first of the year.
Meanwhile, the Brown County Regional Sewer District board is still moving forward with a plan to build a separate wastewater treatment plant to take in Bean Blossom-area sewage. That board was made aware in mid-November that the town was starting work on a sewer utility master plan.
There’s also another, stand-alone wastewater treatment plant operating just off State Road 46 East in Gnaw Bone, which serves Forest Hills Apartments and other customers in that area and is governed by a separate, appointed sewer board.
“We really need to look at something that’s going to combine the county’s and the town’s relationships,” Kennard suggested to the study group. “I really want to see a really positive result of the two entities married for the common good.”
“It’s going to be interesting to see what the new year brings,” Willey said last week.
About the town’s sewer master plan, “I just wish it would happen tomorrow, while I’m still here,” he said.