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Woody Marshall/The Macon Telegraph picture

Tape warns visitors to stay away from a creek on the Ocmulgee National Monument property that was affected by a sewage spill upstream. The public still can visit the rest of the monument's sites, including the Great Temple Mound seen here.


MWA Sewage Spill Affects Indian Mounds

Rangers forced to close one Ocmulgee National Monument trail

By Christopher Schwarzen The Macon Telegraph

The Macon Water Authority logged its ninth major sewage overflow of the year this week.

Water authority crews cleaned sewage Sunday from a stream running through Ocmulgee National Monument property. The overflow was caused by grease buildup about one-tenth of a mile from monument property at Plumtree Street and Fairview Avenue.

NINE MAJOR SPILLS This year's sewage overflows and causes 1. Feb. 7, Lake Wildwood subdivision. Blockage caused by poor pipe installation.

2. March 7, Kensington Drive. The line broke after a storm-water pipe settled on it.

3. March 9, Bass and New Forsyth roads. Tree roots backed up a buried manhole. 4. March 21, Mercer University Boulevard and Holland Drive. A tree trunk and large rocks blocked the line.

5. April 21, Rose Street. Grease and other debris in the manhole.

6. May 18, Corbin Avenue lift station near I-75. Caused by a malfunction at the lift station.

7. May 23, Riverside Drive and King Alfred Drive. Caused by grease in the line.

8. June 6, Roff and Pio Nono avenues. Caused by grease in the line.

9. Sunday, Plumtree Street and Fairview Avenue. Caused by grease in the line.

Jim David, monument superintendent, said the trail was closed because a bridge over the polluted stream often floods during heavy rain. He is afraid trail-users could come in contact with fecal coliform.

The overflow has prompted rangers at the monument to close one trail and to post signs alerting visitors to possible stream hazards. Tape reading "Caution Biohazard" is strung around the stream.

The overflow was reported Sunday by a ranger on a routine property patrol. The ranger told water authority crews she smelled sewage and noticed a stream on the property was dark and murky, said Jim David, the monument's superintendent. The water was still discolored Wednesday.

Crews responded to the spill by 4 p.m. and finished cleaning sewage two hours later, said water authority Executive Director Gene Holcomb. The water authority reported the spill to the state Environmental Protection Division as a major overflow - more than 10,000 gallons of raw sewage.

EPD officials confirmed the report Wednesday, adding they were investigating because of the monument's public access. A fine or corrective action could result from this investigation.

"We're very concerned about the public health aspect of this spill," David said Wednesday. "We've called our office in Atlanta for advice on how to handle this. We're checking to see if there are other federal steps we need to take."

Park officials closed the trail because a bridge over the polluted stream often floods during heavy rain, David said. He is afraid trail-users could come in contact with fecal coliform, a bacteria found in raw sewage that can cause severe stomach ailments if ingested.

David said the trail will reopen when coliform levels return to normal. The water authority began testing this week and will continue following state requirements, Holcomb said.

The public-access issue also has raised a red flag with the EPD, said Jim Sommerville, a supervisor of the EPD's Water Protection Branch's permitting, compliance and enforcement program. Sommerville's office will look at public attendance figures and coliform levels as well as speak with water authority and park personnel about the overflow.

"We have some information already but are doing follow-ups to see the impact," he said.

A February spill at Lake Wildwood, considered recreational by the EPD, cost the water authority $15,000. Several smaller spills were included in that fine.

The latest investigation will include a major overflow reported on June 6 at Roff and Pio Nono avenues, Sommerville said.

The overflow was caused when a residential sewage line backed up with grease. The line is "off the beaten path," Holcomb said, and follows an unnamed creek which runs to the Ocmulgee River. It is part of the Walnut Creek watershed, which has been the source of overflow problems in past years.

"Most of this area had been rehabbed," Holcomb said. "But this line had not, so we'll do that like we did at Wildwood."

The area is also part of the water authority's watershed assessment program, Holcomb said. Engineering crews are mapping manholes and assessing their condition for repairs.

National Park Service personnel said this is not the first time an overflow has occurred in the stream. David said he knew of another spill several years ago.

This is the ninth major spill reported to the state since Jan. 1. There were six major overflows reported during all of 1999.

Sommerville said the state is trying to determine why the water authority is having more problems this year.

"Every authority should try to avoid any sanitary sewer overflow, but that may be a goal they can't reach," he said. "They need to at least minimize every occurrence. We want to make sure they're doing everything in their power."

A consent order for the Wildwood spill requires the water authority to review its grease-management plan, Sommerville said. The state will be looking closely to make sure the water authority is doing enough maintenance work on sewage lines.

The water authority is responsible for about 700 miles of sewerage.

-- (, June 22, 2000

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