published Friday, April 8th, 2011

Sewage discharge halted

Utility crews restarted a Gatlinburg, Tenn., wastewater treatment plant where a wall collapse killed two workers and the partial repair ended a direct flow of sewage into a Great Smoky Mountains National Park river, officials said Thursday.

A spokesman for Chicago-based plant operator Veolia Water North America said at a news conference that operations at the plant on the west prong of the Little Pigeon River were being tested and monitored. The plant partially restarted Wednesday night.

Veolia East Region President Keavin Nelson said Thursday that full treatment was not yet restored but the plant was operating normally.

“We have completely stopped the discharge of sewage into the river,” Nelson said.

Nelson said he could not specifically describe how much of the treatment operation was restored as of Thursday at the plant, where a 40-foot wall collapsed Tuesday morning and released some 850,000 gallons of wastewater into the river.

“All indications are we are getting a good amount of treatment,” he said.

The collapse killed two workers, whose bodies were recovered as heavy equipment removed rubble at the site Tuesday afternoon.

Nelson said an investigation of the cause is continuing.

Environmental agencies posted warning signs downstream but officials said no drinking water supplies were in jeopardy.

Tisha Calabrese-Benton, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, has said the failure occurred in a 1 million gallon capacity equalization basin, a large tank that is used during times of heavy rain to regulate water going into the treatment plant.

Officials have said the plant typically treats about 2 million gallons of wastewater daily and sewage was sent straight into the river for about 34 hours while the plant was shut down.

Nelson said the plant temporarily would not have the “ability to respond to high rainfall” amounts.

Officials have said a 2006 Tennessee environmental agency issued an order to the city of Gatlinburg related to sewage system effluent violations and collection system overflows but those situations were resolved and did not involve the treatment plant.

The Mountain Press in Gatlinburg reported that separate from the collapsed storage tank wall at the 32-year-old plant, city officials had a scare in 1997 when a wall apparently “bowed out” after the first time the plant filled with wastewater following spring rains and high tourist visitation. While some movement in the walls was anticipated, engineers reinforced that wall, which is still standing.

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