To the Residents of Briar Chapel,
Hope all of you are well. We hit the ground running in January, here’s the latest updates on our wastewater system.
Two Large Spray Irrigation Spills
Earlier this month we reported a large spray irrigation spill that occurred on December 29th located behind Hill Creek in the area where many of the force main breaks (sewage spills) have occurred. Integra Water has reported that this spill was due to pipe bell failure on the irrigation sub-main. According to NCDEQ, ONSWC has reported that approximately 100,000 gallons (reclaimed water) was spilled and went into a tributary of Pokeberry Creek and a nearby storm water pond. ( Video1, Video2, Video3, Video4)
On January 20th 2021 we had another large irrigation spill. This one occurred behind the homes on Tyner Loop and was caused by a Newland contractor who was putting in water lines and broke the irrigation pipe. NCDEQ has told us that due to the size of both of these spills, they will be issuing Notices of Violation to ONSWC.
Many residents have voiced concerns regarding the reclaimed water and potential health risks. In 2020, ONSWC and the BCCA conducted testing of the reclaimed water. According to the latest minutes from the Tri-Party Council, the BCCA plans to publish the results of this testing in the near future.
Sewage Sludge Spill
On January 18th 2021, residents alerted us to a sludge spill located at the bottom of the driveway to the WWTP on Boulder Point Drive. Sludge is a waste by-product from the wastewater treatment process. ONSWC brings in tanker trucks weekly to haul the sludge to farms who dry the sludge and use it to fertilize farmland. In this instance, sludge had dropped from the tanker when it braked at the bottom of the hill in an area where residents frequently walk. We notified Integra Water, NCDEQ, and our HOA Board. Amanda Grenier and her staff cleaned the area the following morning. Unfortunately, several residents inadvertently walked through the area before it could be cleaned. We would encourage our HOA Board to send out timely notices when these spills occur.
Meetings with Chatham County Commissioners
On January 18th 2021, we had a zoom call with Franklin Gomez (District 5 – western Chatham County) the newest member of the Chatham County Commissioners (CCC) who was elected in November 2020. Mr. Gomez was a member of the Chatham County Planning Board when they voted unanimously to deny approval of Newland’s final plats. Our goal was to bring him up to speed on issues with our wastewater system since we last met with the Planning Board on 9/1/20 including the decision by the CC BOC to allow the final plats to be approved by default and their basis for that decision.
On January 22nd 2021, we had a zoom call with Diana Hales (District 3 currently representing Briar Chapel and CCC Vice-Chair) and Karen Howard (District 1 and former CCC Chair). Both were involved with the CCC decision to not vote on the final plats and allow them to be approved by default. In this meeting we focused on understanding their basis for that decision: the Doctrine of Pre-emption puts state regulations over county ordinances where there is a conflict and their belief that the state regulatory agencies should be responsible for enforcement (not Chatham County).
Several interesting points came out in these two meetings:
· Mr. Gomez felt that Newland’s threat of legal action if the CC BOC voted to deny their final plats likely was a factor in their decision. Ms. Howard and Ms. Hales stated they felt regardless of the CC BOC decision, Newland would eventually get approval and they did not want to waste taxpayers money.
· All three commissioners acknowledged that many of the developer’s plans for development along 15/501 are planning or hoping to use Briar Chapel’s WWTP.
· Karen Howard explained that Chatham County does not have the financial resources and does not want to raise taxes in a rural county for a wastewater plant in NE Chatham County. She feels that with Chatham County not providing a regional wastewater plant in this area, that it will slow growth in this area.
· All three commissioners indicated that they do not want to support the addition of development on contiguous property to the Briar Chapel WWTP given the current problems with the system.
· Chatham County is planning to consolidate many of the current development ordinances under the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). It was not clear if this new ordinance will apply to Briar Chapel or if we will continue to be grandfathered under the Compact Community Ordinance.
We are trying to schedule similar meetings with Mike Dasher (District 2, New Chair of CCC) and Jim Crawford (District 4) as well.
Meeting with NCDEQ – Scott Vinson
On January 26th 2021 we had a zoom call with Scott Vinson (Raleigh Regional Supervisor for NCDEQ). We confirmed our understanding of the recent permit approvals and the pending permit modifications under review as well as the planned WWTP expansion. We’ve shared this information below as part of the Tri-Party Agreement update.
In addition, we discussed several areas of note:
· The regional office of NCDEQ has lost 8 of their 18 employees over the last six months – with two of these losses being staff experienced with the Briar Chapel system.
· NCDEQ has guidelines/procedures for handling reporting and issuing of violations for sewage spills, but there are no guidelines for handling large spray irrigation system failures. As a result when we have reported violations of the spray irrigation system in the past (e.g., overirrigation/spills into storm drains, irrigation during rain events or in freezing temperatures) these have not been acted on. Our two recent irrigation pipeline breaks were much larger, so NCDEQ will be taking action on these.
· We asked whether the expansion of the WW system to development in contiguous property would require “approval” from NCDEQ. Mr. Vinson said these “outparcels” would require a permit modification and approval.
· Mr. Vinson acknowledged the continuing odor issues within Briar Chapel due to the WWTP (we have been copying him on all of the resident odor complaints). He noted that ideally the WWTP should be moved (and had been poorly placed), but acknowledged that NCDEQ could not force ONSWC to move the WWTP. NCDEQ requires owners to take action to minimize odor conditions, but does not make specific recommendations on which odor control solutions an owner should put in place.
· We asked Mr. Vinson about recent recommendations that the BCCA have made asking residents to not put food, oil and grease down the garbage disposals/drains. Mr. Vinson said that this could only help the odor situation, but was not likely a major contributor.
· We noted that with the latest update to the permit, the Briar Chapel WWTP is permitted to process 206,727gpd. Based on the last 12 months of self-reported data, the Briar Chapel WWTP has averaged 204,658gpd. The constraint is with the spray irrigation system. We have seen signs of more construction of irrigation fields over the last month.
Discussion with Amanda Grenier – Operator of Briar Chapel WWTP
On January 12th 2021 I spoke with Amanda Grenier, the Operator Responsible in Charge (ORC) for the Briar Chapel WW system. She and her staff are the ones who are managing operations at the WWTP and pump stations, including trying to determine the source of the odors and how best to resolve/minimize them.
From this discussion, there were several items of note:
· Amanda noted that they have been working hard to catch up on a lot of maintenance issues at the plant, pump stations and retention ponds (e.g., broken equipment, missing equipment and a lot of cleaning). They are mostly done with the cleanup, but still have pumps and other equipment to replace. She estimated they would need another 3 months to complete the maintenance. She believes this maintenance will help the plant run more efficiently and should help the odor issue, but she acknowledges, these steps will not likely eliminate the odor issues. We are encouraged that Amanda and her staff have been working hard to catch up on much needed maintenance.
· When asked about what could be causing the odors, Amanda said that when load is low the equalization (EQ) basin (where sewage enters the plant) is low so the partial cover and aerator can prevent the odors from escaping. During peak loads, the EQ basin fills and the cover and aerator cannot prevent the odor from escaping. She did say that she felt food waste, grease and oil could be contributing to the odor as it enters the EQ basin.
· When asked about the bioxide feed system (odor control system installed at 5 of our 12 pump stations), Amanda said that when she and her staff first came in those systems were not working. Those systems are handled entirely by Integra Water, Amanda and her staff are not involved.
· Amanda has recommended a biofilter to be added to the plant as part of the plant expansion to help reduce odors. A biofilter can only be added to the expansion if ONSWC submits a permit modification (since it is not part of the current permit) – per NCDEQ, ONSWC has decided not to do a permit modification for the expansion.
· I asked Amanda about the possibility of including a berm around the WWTP on the sides closest to homes – she said this would be entirely up to Integra Water.
Haw River Assembly
The Haw River Assembly (HRA) has reached out to us to learn more about the impact that Briar Chapel’s WW system could be having on Pokeberry Creek which is a tributary of the Haw River and Jordan Lake. We are pleased that they have committed to collecting samples to assess e.coli bacteria levels when we have spills to assess the impact on Pokeberry Creek.
If you are not familiar with the HRA, they are a non-profit dedicated to protecting the Haw River and Jordan Lake. Here is a link for membership/ one time donations to help support this worthy organization. http://hawriver.org/join-hra/
Status Update on Tri-Party Agreement
Here’s the lastest information we have on the status of the work outlined in the Tri-Party Agreement:
· The forcemain bypass has been approved by NCDEQ and Chatham County. This involves installing a new pipeline from Pump Station A (located by the dog park), along Great Ridge Parkway to join to SD East force main (located behind the homes at Tyner Loop). Pre-construction activities should begin by end of January with construction anticipated to start in early February.
· The WWTP expansion is still in design phase. ONSWC is planning to utilize the existing permit, requiring expansion to 500,000gpd using extended aeration. Our understanding from Mr. McDonald is they expect construction to start in February 2021 with completion by end of 2021.
· We have confirmed that ONSWC has rehired Lee Bowman (as a contract Construction Coordinator) to coordinate approvals with Chatham County and NCDEQ and liaison with contractors.
· ONSWC is preparing an application to NCUC to increase their tap fees in Briar Chapel from $1,500 to $4,000. This will not affect existing homeowners and residents, but when approved will increase the connection fee to the home builders and commercial development. Mr. McDonald has told us this connection fee will help offset some of the cost of the plant expansion.
· NCDEQ issued a revised permit for our WWTP/spray irrigation system (WQ0028552) that includes: 206,727gpd in permitted/operational spray irrigation, permit to construct another 134,837gpd in spray irrigation (total of 341,564gpd) and permits the addition of the Western pond (behind Encore) to the current Central pond (located next to the WWTP) for storage of reclaimed water.
· NCDEQ is reviewing three additional permit modification requests from ONSWC that would convert some existing spray irrigation from potable to reclaimed water (e.g. Encore residential homes and Sports Courts) and allow construction of some additional spray irrigation fields (area north and south of Western pond and in common areas within Encore and behind Cliffdale homes). If approved, this would increase our spray irrigation capacity to 521,454 gpd. Estimates are that only 400,000 gpd are needed to accommodate Briar Chapel’s needs. According to NCDEQ this will make us one of the largest non-discharge (spray irrigation) wastewater systems in the Triangle.
· On 1/4/2021, SCN sent a letter to our HOA Board with a list of questions that we asked them to address on behalf of residents at their next Tri-Party Council meeting. At the BCCA Public Board Meeting, the BCCA confirmed they have presented the questions to Newland and ONSWC and have asked them to respond to these questions by their next Council meeting (February 9th).
The latest Tri-Party Council meeting was held on January 12th 2021. No information was yet been posted from that meeting, but the BCCA did post the minutes from the December 8th, 2020 Tri-Party Council meeting. A couple of items to note from this meeting:
· BCCA confirmed they plan to publish test results from the irrigation (reclaimed water) testing that was done last year. They have asked ONSWC to provide their test results as well.
· BCCA proposed continuing testing in 2021 with all three parties (Newland, ONSWC and BCCA) sharing the cost. ONSWC and Newland did not feel there was a need for testing in 2021 and Newland said they would not participate financially in testing in 2021.
· BCCA has asked ONSWC to provide them with responses to resident complaints received by ONSWC so that they can have First Residential send out the responses to residents.
· On February 8th, BCCA is organizing a Zoom Q&A session with Mr. McDonald (owner of Integra Water) and Amanda Grenier (ORC of the Briar Chapel WW system).
Documenting our Concerns
We are extremely thankful for the information shared with us by BC residents. We need to continue to document resident’s complaints/concerns, particularly odor issues. When you have a complaint, please call Integra Water’s customer service number 877-511-2911. To make sure your complaint is documented, we ask that you also email your concern to us at STOPCHATHAMNORTH@gmail.com. We will make sure your complaint is shared with all the appropriate parties (Integra Water, NCDEQ, BCCA board, First Residential, Amanda Grenier) and documented/tracked.
Total amount donated: $48,653.34 (470 families contributing)
Spent to date: $41,999.27 (Legal: $35,317.50, Engineering Expert: $6,142.00, Administrative: $539.77)
You can donate via PayPal by using this link:
If you prefer not to use PayPal:
You can write a check to: STOPCHATHAMNORTH and mail it to: STOPCHATHAMNORTH in care of Liz Rolison, 1900 Briar Chapel Parkway, Chapel Hill, NC 27516 or simply drop the check at Liz’s house.
We are maintaining a full accounting of these funds and will return any unused funds to all homeowners who contribute on a prorated basis. Thank you again for contributing.
StopChathamNorth is an unincorporated non-profit association representing concerned homeowners within Briar Chapel. StopChathamNorth does NOT support a regional wastewater treatment plant within the residential community of Briar Chapel. We are aware that there are several new communities surrounding Briar Chapel that are planning to utilize our WWTP, in addition to the current proposal to add Fearrington Village to our WWTP. We are opposed to all of these plans to expand Briar Chapel’s WWTP for uses outside of the Briar Chapel residential community. We also believe that the WWTP and ONSWC must be fully compliant with all governance and regulatory guidelines to ensure operations do not create a nuisance, unhealthy or hazardous conditions for Briar Chapel residents.
For more information: www.stopchathamnorth.com