Public works project up and running with satisfactory results

By Bob Robinson
STAR STAFF

   When Johann Coetzee graduated from South Africa Technicon University in Cape Town, he hadn't even heard of Elizabethton, Tennessee, much less know he would play an important role in the city's growth seven years later.
   Coetzee received a diploma in structural engineering in 1988. He 'discovered' Elizabethton in 1993 after moving to Johnson City with his wife when she found a job there.
   "When I arrived in the area, I started looking for a job and was lucky enough to have been hired by Charles Stahl, Elizabethton City Manager," Coetzee said.
   Before landing the job in Elizabethton, Coetzee had worked in the diamond mines, farmed and been a consulting engineer.
   Today, Coetzee is deputy director Elizabethton Public Works and manager of the City of Elizabethton Wastewater Treatment Plant, a position he holds with great pride and humility.
   For the past 23 months, he, along with Hugh Thomason, chief operator, have coordinated the construction of an $8.7 million state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant, located on a 24-acre tract next to Watauga River. The project was completed just 55 days behind schedule.
   Coetzee quickly points out that he, alone, is not responsible for the City of Elizabethton having one of the latest, state-of-the-art, computer-driven, wastewater treatment plants in the State of Tennessee.
   All wastewater treatment operators deserve the credit. Each was given the opportunity to provide input in the planning stage, Coetzee said.
   All total, there are 15 employees performing a variety of tasks at the plant. Each has worked an average of 10 years for the City of Elizabethton and has been trained to do the other person's job.
   Today, there are nine operators trained to use a personal computer to operate the treatment plant. There is continuous cross training for employees, Coetzee added.
   The operator monitors Cherokee and Sycamore Pumping Stations locates across Watauga River from the treatment plant.
   The new computerized plant handles twice the volume of the old treatment plant, built in 1958. The plant was expanded in 1972 to handle secondary treatment required by the Clean Water Act.
   In the future, the Elizabethton plant can be easily modified to handle increased demands for wastewater treatment as new residents and new industry move to Elizabethton, according to Coetzee.
   Water quality standards are set by the State of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
   Quality assurance 'flow' testing is conducted 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Other tests are conducted at varying intervals.
   Chlorine is used to kill pathogenic organisms in the water and sulphur dioxide to kill the chlorine.
   Water samples are taken from above and below the wastewater treatment plant twice a week and results are filed with the State of Tennessee.
   The treated water leaving the plant must support water life, including water fleas and minnows, and is often 30 to 40 times cleaner than the Watauga River it empties into.
   The cost of electricity to power the pumping stations and to operate the treatment plant averages $12,000 a month. Backup generators come on line within seconds if there is an electrical power failure.
   On July 5, 2001, two days after the worst rain storm in recent memory struck the Elizabethton area, the 'computerized' wastewater treatment plant began its operation.
   "The first month's operation was successful. We are still calibrating equipment and conducting formal training for treatment operators. We are well on our way to maintaining a consistent, successful record of performance," Coetzee said.
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   The Elizabethton Wastewater Department has three major components:
   #1 - Wastewater Treatment, headed by Hugh Thomason, chief operator;
   #2 - Collections and System pipeline construction and maintenance; and,
   #3 - Industrial pretreatment, the latter two headed by Eric Davis.
   Industrial pretreatment permits have been issued to Mapes Piano, Snap-On Tools, Inland Container, Color Works, Tri-Cities Plating and ALCOA Aluminum.
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   The ingredients for the $8.7 million project include:
   * 940,000 pounds of reinforcing steel;
   * More than 7,200 cubic yards of concrete;
   * 12,950 feet of process piping;
   * More than 64,300 cubic yards of excavated earth;
   * 13,500 feet of pipeline from pump stations; and,
   * 21,000 feet of electrical and electronic control cables.