On March 9th at approximately 10:00 am, the Town offices on Plum Street were closed due to a sewage backup into the facility; staff had to be evacuated until at least the odor was cleared from the building. According to Public Works director Dave Fauber, they were able to clear the pipes, and the office was opened at 11:30. There was, however, ‘contamination’ to the carpet in the police department; the Town has filed a claim with VML insurance.
Not an isolated incident, the Library experienced a similar backup earlier in the same week, forcing crews to tear up the street to presumably get at the clean out trap. Just across the street at Kelly’s, a plumbing company had to be brought in twice to clear and snake out the drains there. Sources are telling the Cape Charles Mirror that sewage backups are, and have been happening to businesses all along Mason Avenue, but when they contact the town, the response is almost universal. The town holds up its hands and says, ‘That’s your problem.” But is it?
According to Gene Kelly, the sewage problem is nearly constant, to the point that they have plumbers on speed dial. The Mirror spoke with the Kelly’s and the frustration with Cape Charles was evident, “We have had a huge problem with sewage backup in town at the pub. Of course the latest is it happened on a Friday night with two different plumbing companies in there (charging time and a half). The town was addressing the same issue with the library this past week and had the sidewalk and street torn up and you know this is directly across from us. When we told Dave Fauber that the plumber had “snaked” out 100 feet from the pub and found no blockage at our end he responded that it was certainly not the town…it was on us. First of all, how does he know? Jill at the gym has had a problem in the lady’s room there. After discussion with some patrons it seems it is happening more than we know. We have spent close to $808 in the last 30 days to try to correct this but we’re sure it will happen again. We are just so tired of the constant fight with the town and their “us against you” approach”.
Sources also tell the Cape Charles Mirror that the renovation at 2 Randolph is experiencing severe sewer backups, where every toilet in the house backed up at the same time. It has taken over two hours to get it cleared out. Once again, the response from the town was the same, “It’s not our problem.”
This has been happening all over town. A citizen on Tazewell confirms the Kelly scenario. While experiencing severe sewage backups and noxious fumes in his house, as well as multiple calls to the plumber, the town’s response to him was, “It’s in ‘your’ clean out. We can’t help you.”
“Well, where is the clean out?”
“We don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“It should be right there.”
(vaguely pointing) “Somewhere around there.”
Overflowing sewage in Cape Charles illuminates other distinct problems: First, the Town’s disdain for certain businesses (while providing back room, sweetheart deals for others). In the case of Kelly’s, backups and sewer gas issues have been there almost since the beginning. Outside plumbers have been brought in to try and find the source, but to no avail; they are able route and snake well over 100 feet across the street,but are still unable to locate the source of the blockage. How can the Town’s response be, ‘That’s your problem”? Second, and even more absurd, the town can’t even tell them where all the possible clean outs are located; they know where to collect every last cent of meal tax, but they have no idea where a fundamental part of the underground infrastructure is located?
From a commons sense, basic engineering perspective, how can the town not know where its infrastructure is? This is the simplest of problems to solve. Town crews should go to each and every location and locate the all the vital information, such as clean outs, and plug the location with a GPS. Once saved, you export the data to file, and use it as it seems fit. I would recommend importing into ArcGIS and mapping it, but that’s just me.
As mentioned earlier, the sewage issue is a symptom of a larger problem. If you talk to real business owners, they are completely disgusted. The Town has gone all in turning Cape Charles into a seasonal tourist destination. But for year round businesses like Kelly’s, each winter is grainy re-run of The Hunger Games. While Mason Street businesses struggle to stay open, having to spend thousands of dollars just to deal with the Town’s decaying infrastructure seems ludicrous.
This does beg the question, instead of spending $millions on breakwaters, just because Cape Charles Yacht Center wants them, shouldn’t the town instead have been addressing the decaying underground infrastructure?
But, this is just how the town rolls. It should also be noted that the town is very close to being hammered with severe fines from the DEQ (sources tell us well over $100k) due to high levels of phosphorus being dumped into the bay by the new $19.5-million-dollar wastewater plant that was signed off on by former Mayor Dora Sullivan. Since August, the town has been struggling to regulate effluent with extremely high levels of phosphorus. While numbers are currently running around .05 mg/l, the phosphorus spikes in July-August 2015 are still going to put the town over the annual average allowed which is .3mg/l. The town believes the high numbers were due to “equipment failure exacerbated by the warm weather”. The equipment issue in question was the simultaneous failure of several mixers. The Cape Charles plant is a Membrane Bioreactor Filtration System; the hydrodynamics (or mixing) within an MBR plays an important role in determining the pollutant removal and fouling control within the $21-million-dollar system. The effect of losing several mixers (there are 12 total) all at once was dangerous, but not having enough spares (they had 2) to at least marginally continue to promote pollution removal, bordered on the catastrophic (unconfirmed rumors of chemicals being used bring the plant back into compliance are also worrisome). To date, the town has spent $31,757.33 on new mixers.
Note: Anonymous sources have told the Cape Charles Mirror that, while our plant operators are well-trained and certified, their recommendations to management, especially in terms of best management practices, many times fall on deaf ears.
The phosphorus event, combined with the town’s cavalier approach to sewage backups, brings up some disturbing questions. Do the people in charge know what they are doing? The insanely dangerous and absurd reverse angle parking scenario begs the question whether basic common sense and competence even exists anywhere within town limits. Given it took two children drowning before Cape Charles did anything to address beach safety (even as the approach they implemented is totally stupid), one has to wonder if Cape Charles may first have to succumb to a fecal apocalypse before they address the root cause of this epic failure.