Lagoon closure to cost more, take longer

Additional $644K and another year needed

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

* Dec. 16: Lagoon subject of special meeting 

ELLERBE — Turns out, getting out of the wastewater treatment business isn’t so easy.

The lagoon closure project identified as a top priority in 2009, and that was to be completed by the end of this year, won’t be. Mayor Lee Berry and Town Council members learned Tuesday during a special public meeting at Town Hall to learn that the project engineer needs another $644,000 and another 12 months — or more. A dispute between the project’s general contractor and a subcontractor — brought on by a payment delayed by a state bureaucracy — didn’t help things. Finding nearly double the amount of sludge in the lagoon didn’t help either, said Adam Kiker, of LKC Engineering in Aberdeen.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Ellerbe Mayor Lee Berry reviews a preliminary cost estimate for phase two of the lagoon closure project, as prepared by LKC Engineering.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Ellerbe Mayor Lee Berry reviews a preliminary cost estimate for phase two of the lagoon closure project, as prepared by LKC Engineering.

Jean Klein, grand administrator and planner with the Lumber River Council of Governments, said the $6 million project was put under contract and notice to proceed was given in late June. The project — emptying the sludge from the lagoon, located off Bennett Road, and grading the site to a usable condition — was to be completed by late summer.

“That did not happen,” Klein said. Workers, she said, “encountered some additional sludge … beyond what had been estimated.”

In a project estimate for the additional sludge removal, Kiker told the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development that there are an estimated 7,500 cubic yards — or more than 1.5 million gallons — of sludge remaining.

Several years ago, town officials decided to do away with the lagoon and instead regionalize treatment of wastewater through the city of Rockingham. It’s a $6 million project that has been planned since at least 2008. The city of Rockingham, town of Ellerbe and Richmond County government, along with the Golden LEAF Foundation, all have contributed to the project.

The current dispute between the contractor, Anson Contractors Inc., and a subcontractor caused the town of Ellerbe and the Lumber River Council of Governments to terminate the contract. Through Tuesday, however, Anson Contractors Inc. haven’t signed off on the paperwork to complete the termination. That also means Anson hasn’t received the final $54,000 payment for work the company has completed.

Klein explained the original contract was set up to have the sludge pumped from the lagoon, hauled to another location and turned into much.

“That was a nice, green alternative but it was pretty pricey,” Klein said.

This time, the contract will require land-application, which, Klein said, “means we have to get a permit from the state. That process is a lengthy process. It generally takes about six months.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Adam Kiker, of LKC Engineering, said he couldn't guarantee the project would be completed by the end of 2015.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Adam Kiker, of LKC Engineering, said he couldn’t guarantee the project would be completed by the end of 2015.

The hope is that Kiker can find a landowner with a current permit, and with at least 185 acres available, and have the landowner seek a revised permit. That would take less time.

The Office of Rural Development could offer a funding package, which could include a sizable grant, but Klein and Kiker both doubted that USDA would offer funds on one project before the other is closed out. The subcontractor has filed a claim against the bond. Though Anson Contractors has offered to pay the subcontractor all the money due, Kiker said he guessed there might be “a monetary dispute” between the two entities.

“We have made it clear to Anson, at your direction, that this is becoming a problem,” Kiker told Berry and council members. “It’s a problem if the town is damaged by it (and) plans to pursue action to the extent they can.

Klein said the town does have a couple points of leverage over Anson — depending on that business’s financial status. One if the final payment. Second is a court of law.

“I’m sure, 10 times out of 10, a lawsuit is not where any local government wants to go,” Klein said.

Once USDA does consider the funding proposal, the town could be responsible for only $80,000 of of the $644,000. That’s if the Golden LEAF Foundation, a major benefactor to this project, agrees to another extension. That’s not guaranteed, but Klein noted after the meeting that “they want to finish this project.”

It remains to be seen if this newest request for extension will be granted.

“Do I feel certain we’ll be done by the end of the year? No,” Kiker said of the close of 2015, “but we’re going to do everything we can to make it happen.”

The Golden LEAF Foundation’s board of directors next meets in February. The matter is expected to be place on the meeting agenda for consideration.

Filed in: Ellerbe/Norman, Latest Headlines, News

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