Residents concerned over sewer

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

CONYERS -- The DeKalb sewer tunnel is seen as a needed improvement; however, residents in the neighboring areas in south Rockdale County see the multi-million dollar project as a potential big stink between the two counties.

The 5-mile long, 25-foot wide pipeline would run between DeKalb's Snapfinger and Pole Bridge sewer treatment facilities and would provide for increased capacity and emergency storage of storm water during extreme wet weather.

The tunnel will run through neighborhoods in southeast DeKalb County at depths up to 25 feet underground. DeKalb water officials believe many residents will not notice the

tunnel much, if at all, once the project is completed.

What raises concerns of residents like Cary Bond is that a portion of the tunnel is planned to go through Rockdale County and under the South River. Bond and others believe the tunnel is a danger to the local aquifer that supplies the water wells of many residents.

The residents have organized this year and formed a group called the Newly Organized Citizens Requesting Aquifer Protection (NOCRAP).

"The tunnel system poses a threat to Rockdale's very large and pristine quality aquifer," Bond told the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners recently. "During construction, the tunnel would likely drain large quantities of water and after construction the aquifer could be contaminated with sewage."

The group called on the BOC to include language in the county's comprehensive development plan to protect aquifer recharge areas, watersheds, lakes, rivers and water wells.

Bond also noted that the Rockdale County Water and Sewer Authority has moved to include aquifer protection in its master plan and voted to study ways to become independent of the Pole Bridge treatment plant, which serves some nearby Rockdale neighborhoods through an intergovernmental agreement between the counties.

Officials with Rockdale Water Resources said they have had discussions with their counterparts in DeKalb County concerning the sewer tunnel and will continue to monitor its progress.

The project is impressive in size and scope. The tunnel is one component of an overall plan to expand capacity at the two DeKalb treatment plants that is estimated will cost $978 million if everything proposed is completed.

Snapfinger's capacity will be increased from 36 million gallons per day (MGD) to 54 MGD while Pole Bridge's capacity will go from 20 to 39 MGD. The tunnel will allow DeKalb to transfer raw sewage from one plant to the other.

The bulk of the cost is installation of a bio-membrane treatment process at Snapfinger that is more efficient in treating sewage than traditional methods, said Frances Kungu, director of the DeKalb County Water Management Division.

Hampered by age and limited space, Snapfinger sits on 6 acres with no place to expand while Pole Bridge has 600 acres. Kungu said the housing boom was also a consideration. The tunnel offers another 20 million gallons in sewage and storm water storage for both plants.

"The project will allow us to connect the plants in a way that they may operate as one treatment system as we anticipated population growth on the east side of the county," Kungu said.

However, the recent economic downturn has had an effect on the project and has delayed construction of the tunnel to 2020. Kungu said improvements are going forward at the plants, but the difficult bond market and a slowdown in growth in the area has caused the water department to move the tunnel to its 2015 Capital Improvement Plan list. If funding is secured, it will take about five years to complete.