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Petition seeks to block sewer permits until spills end

A petition sought to block a sewer permit for the Arcadia View development on U.S. 64 west of Laurel Park. A petition sought to block a sewer permit for the Arcadia View development on U.S. 64 west of Laurel Park.

LAUREL PARK — In the latest effort to derail the Arcadia Views development on U.S. 64 west, petitioners sought to block a sewer permit on the grounds that the city of Hendersonville has a leaky sewer system resulting in excessive sewage spills.


The petitioners call themselves Friends of the Oklawaha but are not affiliated with the Friends of the Oklawaha Greenway, the group that supports the existing 3-mile trail from Jackson Park to Berkeley Park and promotes efforts to expand it.
The group opposes a permit for Arcadia Views, which is seeking approval for the first phase of a development of up to 199 cottages on 91 acres. The first phase of the development would result in 56 units on the lower part of the property below Davis Mountain. Plans are moving ahead.
Although organizers of the petition to block the sewer permit have broader interest than the U.S. 64 development, their effort is aligned with the goal of the homeowners west of Laurel Park who have fiercely opposed the Arcadia Views development.
“Hendersonville as you know has dozens and dozens of sanitary sewer overflows,” said Bill Hiatt, one of the leaders of the petition. “These are these are polluting the Oklawaha, Mud Creek, they’re not going away and they’re not doing much about it and I think it’s time they stop.”
Hiatt, who has a doctorate in environmental engineering, believes the city would need to make a variety of improvements before it was in compliance with state water quality regulations.
“It came to our attention that this particular sewer application requires a certification that the flow won’t increase sanitary sewer overflows,” he said. “How can that be valid if they’re already having abundant sanitary sewer overflows? So this is going to definitely increase the quantity of sanitary sewer overflows and may increase the frequency of them as well.”
The Division of Water Resources, under the Department of Environmental Quality, has already issued the sewer permit. Hiatt says the opponents are considering their next steps, including a request that the state revoke the permit and hold a public hearing. An Asheville-based regional supervisor for the water resources office told Hiatt in an email Monday that the division’s director was reviewing information the petitioners have sent.
“My understanding is that the DEQ did issue a permit, which I think is unfortunate because they don’t seem to have been interested in the opinions of the people who have signed the petition,” said Greg Plumb, a resident of Hawthorn Hills. The petition warns of “serious environmental hazards taking place on an ongoing basis that will only be exacerbated by developments like this. … My understanding is that now that the sewer has been authorized, they will be free to break ground on Phase 1 in fairly short order.”

City plans to fix problems

City Manager John Connet said the city has responded in numerous ways to issues that cause the sewer overflows and has plans to do more when it completes engineering studies.
The City Council heard a detailed presentation about the sewer system during a special meeting in January and then directed the staff to take several actions.

“They gave us the direction to do a master plan of the wastewater plant and determine the size of an equalization basin at the wastewater plant or in the system,” he said. “I know your petitioner believes that we need an equalization basin and that we should just go build it immediately.”
An equalization basin, which is designed to control the flow of sewage into a treatment plant during heavy rain, may be part of the answer, Connet said, but would not solve problems throughout the collection system caused by old clay pipes or undersized lines. Each million gallons of capacity of an equalization basin, he said, would cost roughly $1 million.
Engineers have identified problems of stormwater infiltration in sewer pipes along Greenville Highway and Kanuga Road, among other areas, and are making plans to fix or replace lines there.
“For last six months, they’ve been doing a study and identifying areas where we can repair some of the sewer lines and we’re in process of replacing the Mud Creek interceptor (a major line) and the council said go forward with replacing one of our oldest terra cotta lines,” Connet said.

Hiatt said the sewer permit opponents are expanding their outreach to hiking clubs, fishing groups and other users of creeks and rivers.
“We’re considering our options,” Hiatt said, although the organization does not currently have an attorney. “It’s not just this one project, and that was very clear in our petition that we are opposed to any permit that requires this type of certification. We have also been in contact with EPA. The EPA is investigating this as we speak.”
Among other data, Hiatt has supplied state and federal regulators with water sample tests collected by Mountain True. Of 20 samples taken at Mud Creek at Seventh Avenue, 70 percent exceeded water quality standards for fecal coliform, he said.
“The city of Hendersonville is only going to do what the state tells them to do and the state is not doing their job,” he said. “The city should be doing more but it’s the state’s job to protect the water quality. They are very polite. We’re very acquainted with the city manager. I had very good cooperation with the city for about six months and then I was told I only needed to talk to the city attorney. Last year I brought this up to the water advisory committee. Recently, in the last couple of weeks, I talked to Mr. (Jeff) Miller” of the City Council. “He said he would be looking into it. … The staff of the treatment plant and the collection system are good. It’s a question of resources and commitment. They are dedicated to their job and want to do best they can with the resources they have.”
Connet said the city is responding as fast as it can to the sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), which have increased with heavy rains in recent years. Henderson County had record rainfall in 2018 and in December 2019 and this past January had 14 inches of rain, much of it in heavy storms that caused flash flooding.
“We do not like the SSOs any more than anybody else does,” he said. “However, it’s related to the age — we have an older system — and more significant rainfall makes the problem worse. We’re trying to identify our worst problems. … Our older sewer lines are in low-lying areas. Our position is we need to look at a equalization basin but also look at those older lines because it doesn’t benefit our customers to treat rainwater.”