Originally created 07/03/97

Lightning knocks out two New Ellenton pumps



NEW ELLENTON - New Ellenton's sewer contingency fund could be tapped into for the first time because lightning knocked out two pumps on Tuesday that help power raw sewage to the town's wastewater treatment plant.

The contingency fund was part of the out-of-court settlement in February between New Ellenton and NationsBank, the custodian of a $5.2 million state loan that built an unfinished sewer system. The settlement ended a nearly three-year legal war over who would repay the loan.

Mayor Paul Parker said he didn't know Wednesday what repair costs would be.

"Whatever it takes it's got to be fixed," he said.

Under the settlement, the town and NationsBank agreed to split monthly sewer revenues with New Ellenton getting 30 percent and the bank 65 percent. The remaining 5 percent goes to a contingency fund to pay for emergencies related to sewer operations.

There was no public health risk, according to state health officials, and the problem was expected to be fixed quickly.

"What seems to have happened is the lightning storm last night blew out two of the pumps in the lift station," said John McLauchlin, water control engineer in the Aiken County office for the Lower Savannah District of the state's Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The problem was discovered Wednesday morning by employees of the New Ellenton Public Works Commission, said Commissioner Tink Sanders.

"We just checked the electrical circuitry," he said. The pumps weren't working and DHEC and town officials were notified, he said.

Mr. McLauchlin said trucks were being used temporarily to haul sewage collecting at the lift station up to the sewage plant for treatment. A contractor was expected sometime late Wednesday to assess the damage and determine how to fix the problem, he said.

"No one is affected by the discharge. Right now it is contained," he said.

In February, town council members signed an out-of-court settlement to end the 1993 lawsuit filed against New Ellenton by NationsBank. The state loaned the town $5.2 million in 1990 to build the sewer system, which has never generated enough revenues to repay the loan.

The bank as custodian of the loan sued New Ellenton when the town defaulted on payments in 1992 and 1993. Town officials said residents shouldn't be held accountable for what they say is a "junk" sewer system. Former Mayor Randy Shaw pleaded guilty to embezzling part of the loan and served a two-year federal prison sentence.