Another sewage and water crisis in Currituck County; state files notice of contempt to private utility

Not water, but sewage: A photograph of a roadside swale, or ditch, taken in October in Eagle Creek. Sewage is spilling from the metal pit and flowing toward the swale. Residents have been dealing with sewage backing up into their homes for more than 14 months, most recently over the weekend and just days before the Thanksgiving holiday. (Courtesy photo from Eagle Creek resident)

Raw sewage is again backing up into homes in the Eagle Creek community, while the private utility’s equipment failure has also prompted a water conservation advisory.

Residents of the Currituck County neighborhood told Policy Watch via email today the entire neighborhood of 420 homes is without sewer service. Based in Virginia Beach, Va., Sandler Utilities owns the sewage system and the wastewater treatment plant to which it flows; Envirolink, a North Carolina company with a mixed track record, manages the system on Sandler’s behalf.

“We just had a major sewage overflow that came out our downstairs toilet into the hall, closets, den,” wrote one Eagle Creek resident.

Critical portions of the sewer infrastructure are overflowing, Stephanie Harlow, another resident, told Policy Watch. “It’s a freaking mess and nightmare.”

Mike Myers, president of Envirolink, did not return an email seeking comment.

However, an email to residents from Deborah Massey, Envirolink’s billing and customer service manager, stated that “crews worked through the night to start bringing system back on line. Techs are on-site continuing to work on bringing all lines up. An update will be sent out as soon as we can get a complete assessment of each pit with a timeline of complete service. We understand showers and laundry need to be completed but please conserve water as much as possible today.”

Eagle Creek is on a public water system, but when residents shower, wash dishes or flush the toilet, that sends wastewater into the sewer system, which then backs up and overflows.

Policy Watch reported on Nov. 10 that the neighborhood had been plagued by sewage issues from the failing sewage system for 14 months, including over Halloween.

Within the past 18 months, the NC Department of Environmental Quality has issued four Notices of Violation and fined Sandler more than $62,000 for water quality violations. Treated wastewater, also known as effluent, from the sewage treatment plant is sprayed on the Eagle Creek golf course to irrigate it. In October 2020, records show wastewater contained levels of fecal coliform bacteria more than 15 times legal limits. 

Water samples from a ditch on Eagleton Circle contained bacteria from fecal matter “that were too numerous to count,” according to court records. In January 2021, fecal coliform levels were 100 times higher than legally allowed, along with exceedances of nitrogen and ammonia. 

DEQ fined Sandler another $1,200 this year for failing to keep legally required sampling records.

A DEQ spokeswoman said the agency filed a notice of contempt to Sandler in Currituck County court on Nov. 16. The contempt notice is related to a consent judgment between DEQ and Sandler, effective last July. It notes that “the current state of the collection system presents an ongoing threat …” The judgment requires Sandler to submit written plans for system upgrades and operator training. It also requires Sandler to “maintain the collection system that prevents discharge of waste onto land or surface waters.”

Envirolink also has a checkered history. Although the company has not been cited by DEQ for any violations, many systems they manage have been. A review of DEQ enforcement records shows that at least 15 systems that Envirolink manages have racked up 90 violations since 2018. These violations accounted for more than $91,000 in fines.

Envirolink manages the public Moyock Regional Water System, which serves parts of Currituck County. That system accumulated 20 violations in 2018, before Envirolink took over. Since then, Moyock has totaled 23 violations since 2019 and received fines of more than $35,000.

Another resident posted on the community’s private Facebook page, “I really hope that they get this fixed soon with Thanksgiving just in a few days. We just had sewage spew all out of our shower. I really don’t want my family to have to smell sewage while eating their turkey dinner.”

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