Ocean Shores has a serious sewer problem that will likely send more city funds literally down the drain.
Waterworks Utilities Superintendent Miles Beach spilled the bad news to the City Council Jan. 28 that there was “acute corrosion” at the sewage treatment plant’s headworks structure, which was built in 1999.
The corrosion is so severe that a large amount of the 10-inch concrete wall for the structure already has worn down to the supporting rebar from the critical entry point for wastewater into the treatment process, Beach explained to the council.
Mayor Crystal Dingler noted there is no backup to the rebar and the structure could eventually cave in.
It has now “reached the stage where it has to be taken care of,” she said.
When Beach first was informed about the corrosion, it became clear that it was not just a “simple fix.”
“It may require for us to get a structural engineer for us to get an assessment on that,” he said.
Beach showed photos of the damage to the headworks, which is where the wastewater first enters the sewage-treatment plant. The water goes through a mechanical screen designed to remove items like rags or stringy material before it gets into the plant, and then a chamber designed to remove sand and gravel.
It then drops down about 6 1/2 feet through a walled box-like structure into an oxidation ditch. That’s where the problem is, Beach said.
“We’re seeing areas in that box where 50 percent of the concrete is gone down to the rebar,” he said.
The corrosion occurs because there is so much hydrogen-sulphide that is generated in the force main of the system, Beach explained. Once it reaches atmosphere at the treatment plant the hydrogen-sulphide is released into the moisture from the water spilling down the chute and forms sulphuric acid.
“That sulphuric acid is what’s eating away the concrete,” Beach said.
A large fan had been installed in the system to draw off the hydrogen-sulphide and foul air into a bio-filter for “odor scrubbing.” But Beach said over time the fan system became inadequate to slow down or prevent the corrosion.
“Evidently they must not have counted on the amount of hydrogen-sulphide that was generated at the headworks,” he said.
Beach thus far has asked for an outside engineering assessment of the problem, including a cost analysis and scope of work for the repair. That is expected within the next three weeks.
In the meantime, the concern is not “imminent,” Beach said. “It does not mean it will collapse on us but it’s serious enough that we need to take some action on it this year.”
Dingler called it “a shame” that the situation wasn’t taken care of earlier when it could have been cheaper, noting that it was something requested by past staff “but the decision was made not to do that.”
Councilwoman Jackie Farra questioned if there were any way the city could try to hold anyone liable for the original work or design that caused the problem.
Beach said that after 14 years, that would be difficult, and the engineering company that did the original work is no longer the same firm.
“They were anticipating more connections into the system,” he said of the original intent in building the treatment plant. “The more flow you have in the system would probably alleviate that fermentation” from the force main, which in theory would produce fresher wastewater coming into the treatment plant.
Wastewater flows have doubled since the plant was built, Beach noted, but capacity is still about 38 percent.
Farra complained about always pinning the blame on past mistakes with administrations and decision-makers who no longer are with the city or even live in the area.
“We keep having these problems and it’s always some excuse of past engineers,” she said. “I don’t know when we have ever really had an engineer in this town. We’ve had somebody that knew how to use a stamp. I don’t want to see us making these errors all the time.”
Brand also informed the council of some of the issues moving forward toward on the proposal to establish a sewer system for residents in Illahee, Oyehut, Hogans Corner, Ocean City and the Large Parcels area.
Brand said he and Dingler met with the county engineer last month about developing an engineering report for the project.
The county wanted to know what the city’s pump station capacities are and what the possible connection points would be into the existing Ocean Shores system.
Dingler noted the report is being paid for by the county and is not something that is costing the city at this point.
“They are interested in Illahee/Oyehut sewer,” Dingler said of Grays Harbor County officials.
Brand said eventually the City Council will have to decide how to proceed once “construction becomes a reality for that area.”
Some of the issues he outlined were:
•Rates and charges for connections into the city sewer system.
•Possible system development charges, user rates or special rates that might apply to Illahee/Oyehut.
•Who would produce a monthly sewer bill, the city or the county?
•Who would be in charge of inspections and collection of fees?
“Once construction they wanted to know if the city would be interested in owning and operating their system,” Beach said.
Councilwoman Ginny Hill, manager at the Ramada, was absent when the council voted to pass the new $7.48 monthly ambulance utility at the previous session, and she said she wanted to set the record straight about the impact the new cost will have on the hotel-motel and vacation rental industry.
She quoted from a report from the franchise hotels that showed for all of 2012, the average rate from the six franchise hotels in Ocean Shores is $88.66. The annual occupancy was only 37 percent. In 2011, the occupancy rate was 31 percent and the average daily rate was $95.27.
“Now to put that in perspective for you, for a hotel it’s a general standard that they need 52 percent occupancy to break even,” Hill said. “So that lets you know that the hotels in this city are fighting just as much a battle as everyone else.”
Hill said increases in the sales tax and hotel-motel tax put an added burden on the industry, which in turn had to lower prices to attract more customers.
“That washes all the way down to the city coffers in sales tax,” she said.
The Council agreed to start the collection of ambulance utility fees beginning in March, rather than February after it was noted the original council action did not contain a specific date.
Hill wanted to know why the Council didn’t amend the original ordinance, which contained different dates. She said a number of citizens had called her about the issue.
Both Hill and Dingler independently researched the question and found that a start date effectively takes place within 30 days of being passed.
Dingler noted that because the city’s bills go out through the state, it made sense to set March 1 as the start date rather than a February start date.
The city currently could use some volunteer help on several commission and boards. There are openings for the Building Code Board of Appeals, the Fresh Waterways Advisory Board, the Civil Service Commission and the Planning Commission. Contact the mayor if interested.