Heavy rains bring more sewage to Whitmire’s Tryon property

Published 6:30 pm Thursday, May 9, 2013

59,000 gallons of untreated wastewater spills from manhole

Area residents may think they are sick of recent rains, but their inconvenience pales in comparison to Tryon resident Eunice Whitmire’s tribulations.

Almost every time the area suffers a hard rain, town sewage runs in Whitmire’s yard. For years sewage backed up in her house, but the town recently installed a backflow meter so the sewage couldn’t enter the home.

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This past weekend, although no sewage entered Whitmire’s home, the backflow meter also wouldn’t allow any flow to leave the house so she was left with no use of her water. Whitmire said town commissioners Doug Arbogast and Roy Miller visited her home on Sunday, May 5, when the area received 3.73 inches of rain. At that time  a valve was opened. Whitmire could then use her water, but the open valve dumped sewage in her front yard, a common occurrence Whitmire said she’s been sick of for almost 14 years.

Commissioners Arbogast and Miller offered to pay for Whitmire to stay at the Pine Crest Inn, but she declined.

Now the town has discussed whether it needs to move Whitmire, lift up her house or wait a few more months for construction to begin on replacing the East Howard Street sewer line. The installation of the sewer line is expected to stop the problem at Whitmire’s home.

“It’s disgusting,” Whitmire said. “If (the town) thinks I’m going to stay here another three months they are wrong.”

Whitmire said it has been a practice at her house for years to take your shoes off at the door so you don’t track in sewage from the yard. She said she hasn’t been in her yard in years and it devastates her to reminisce about a time when she could garden in her yard.

“You know, the yard once upon a time was real pretty. I don’t go around (the outside of) my house,” said Whitmire. “I go straight in and straight out. It’s disgusting. (The town) just doesn’t realize… that’s sewer water.”

Tryon Council discussion

Tryon Town Council met Tuesday, May 7 for a meeting regarding the budget. During that meeting commissioner Arbogast brought up Whitmire’s situation.

“Well 14 years is a long time to be in a disgusting situation like that,” Arbogast said. “We are very lucky we don’t have news trucks sitting at her house and we’re all not being interviewed. And I don’t know how that hasn’t happened. Whatever we need to do, we need to have every resource up there fixing that – today.”

Commissioner George Baker said every time it rains he goes by Whitmire’s house. He asked if anything came into the house this time.

Town staff answered that nothing came in the house, but she couldn’t flush her toilet. Baker asked if the town remedied that situation?

“We opened the valve in front of her house and all the sewage went in the yard,” Arbogast said.

Town water distribution/sewer collection supervisor Gary Walker explained what town staff thinks is happening at the Whitmire property on East Howard Street. He said the situation was exacerbated when the town bolted the manhole down and sealed the lid. He said this leaves the water nowhere to go.

Arbogast asked if the manhole wasn’t bolted down, would the sewer water just spill out “over there instead of over here.” Town staff answered yes.

“They wasted money on that and wasted money putting rock and mesh in my yard,” Whitmire said. “I can’t cut the grass because of the mesh.”

The town put rock in the yard to divert the water and the mesh was installed to grow grass. Whitmire said there’s also rainwater that runs under her porch.

“If it ain’t the rain that’s got me, it’s the sewer,” she said.

Walker said he saw on television where an Asheville area is having the same problem as Tryon.

“But not for 14 years,” Arbogast said. “It’s embarrassing for 14 years and we haven’t moved her or lifted the house up or put her up at the top of three stories or something.”

Public works director Joel Burrell said Whitmire’s house is in a flood plain and she’s lower in elevation than the sewer plant. It was later stated that Whitmire’s property is the lowest elevation point in the entire town.

“Believe me I feel sorry for Ms. Whitmire, but there comes a point where the individual rights are not as important as the group rights and you know, maybe the best thing we could do is buy her a house and move her out of there,” commissioner George Baker said.

Whitmire told the Bulletin this week that if the town wants to put her in a house equal in value to  her house,she’d happily move.

“I’ve brought that up before too,” Arbogast said. “Why don’t we buy her a house?”

Miller said if the town moves Whitmire the town could use the property as a drain field.

Arbogast later said the town should give Whitmire options and let her decide what she wants to do; to buy her a house or lift up her house.

Baker said the town is within three months of fixing the problem. Miller argued that the flooding issue would still remain.

The town this year approved a $701,907 budget ordinance to replace the East Howard Street sewer line. A Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) will provide $537,738, while the town had to come up with the remaining $164,169 to increase the 12-inch line to a 24-inch line, as required by the state.

Interim town manager Joey Davis told council the grant funds are scheduled to be released later this month when the town can go out for bid on the project. Miller estimated construction would begin in the next three to four months.

Walker said the larger line will fix Whitmire’s sewer water overflow problem but will just push the overflow further down the line at the sewer plant.

Burrell said the town laid lines in 1900 and no work has been done to them. The town has performed inflow and infiltration testing to find the leaks in its system.