GEMA visits Bainbridge as city deals with wastewater plant issues

Published 7:45 pm Friday, January 15, 2016

Members of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency visited Bainbridge Friday to see firsthand the flood damage done to the city’s wastewater plant by the flood.

GEMA Director Jim Butterworth visited locations in Lee County, Baker County and Decatur County to assess whether the areas qualified for a Federal Declaration, or a reimbursement for money spent during a natural disaster.

According to Bainbridge City Manager Chris Hobby, $150,000 has already been spent repairing a breached line leading into the wastewater plant and cleaning out the sand and grit that covered the machinery inside. Weight from flooding earlier this month crushed a pipe and sucked sediment-filled river water into the system instead of sewage.

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City workers are currently working to plug the breached line so a more effective bypass can be put in place. As of 4 p.m. Friday, the wastewater plant is up and running, but more work needs to be done.

Hobby estimated $300,000 would be spent before everything is fixed.

Because the City of Bainbridge is unable to budget such a massive, unexpected accident, officials are hoping for a reimbursement from the state.

Unfortunately, it may not happen quickly.

“There’s nothing quick about it,” Butterworth said. “This realm that we are talking through with the possibility of having access to some kind of funding—it’s more long-term planning. We’re collecting damage assessment right now. The process will then be handed to the governor, and then he makes a decision on whether we look at a Federal Declaration, which will then open up the possibility of FEMA funding.”

Hobby said it was great to see Butterworth and his team visiting Bainbridge and seeing for themselves the issues caused by the moderate flooding.

“They don’t move quickly, but hopefully they can get things moving and get a Federal Declaration that can help us with these costs, because at this point we are going to be over $300,000,” Hobby said. “Even after we get the plant operational, we still have to repair the pipe that we bypassed.”

An entire new pipe will have to be installed to replace the damaged one, Hobby said. Even after the plant is turned back on, it will take up to three weeks to install it. New manholes will also need to be made.

Decatur County Administrator Alan Thomas and county commissioners Pete Stephens and Dennis Brinson were also on site during GEMA’s visit.

“I think it’s important for them to see first hand,” Thomas said. “They get to see what the city is going through trying to repair this problem. (Their) budget can’t stand a quarter million dollars that he didn’t anticipate for something that was caused beyond his control.”