Debate continues over sewer during second day of NAF trial

By Abby Morris
Star Staff

Debate over how the city handled sewer problems that it claims are the result of a fly ash landfill over a section of the western interceptor line continued in court Tuesday as the prosecution resumed presenting evidence in the civil suit the city of Elizabethton has brought against North American Fibers, North American Corporation and Charles Green.
   The suit alleges that, because of the landfill on NAF property, the city had no access to its sewer line and had to build an alternate route for the waste to be transported to the water treatment plant. The suit is asking that NAF, NAC and Green, as an individual and as alter ego for the companies, be held responsible for the costs incurred from that project.
   Charlton DeVault, attorney for the city's suit, called in Joe Wauford as an expert witness. Wauford is the senior vice president of J. R. Wauford and Company as well as manager of the company's East Tennessee branch office. J. R. Wauford and Company is an engineering consulting firm that works with waterworks, sewage, municipal, industrial and civil engineering.
   Wauford said he evaluated the city's options for solving the problem of the city sewer line being covered by the landfill by examining the cost and practicality of five possible solutions.
   One solution involved replacing the pipe in that section of the sewer line and raising the manholes to gain access to them, which Wauford stated was deemed impractical because it still denied the city access to the entire sewer line.
   A second option was to either slip- line the sewer lines or line them with chemicals. This idea was turned down for several reasons, Wauford said. "We didn't have any kind of access, plus we didn't know what kind of structural condition the interceptor was in," he said, adding that it would also decrease the capacity of the line to move sewage.
   An option that showed promise in the beginning was the idea of parallel construction, or building a new sewer line just outside the boundaries of the landfill which ran parallel with the Watuaga River.
   "The biggest positive we saw in this was that it got the line away from the landfill and allowed full access to the line," Wauford said. "What we found wrong was a really prohibitive cost."
   In addition, he stated, running the sewer line beside the river would require numerous permits because the river is a designated trout stream. Digging of the new line would also be complicated by flooding from the river, he stated.
   The idea was abandoned due to the cost of the project as well as the numerous permits that would be required.
   Wauford stated that he felt the most practical and cost effective measure that would give the city access to the sewer they needed was the plan the city eventually went with, rerouting a portion of the western interceptor line, which carries approximately 40 percent of the city's waste water, and installing two force pumping stations. "It was the prudent thing to do and it's what they should have done, in my opinion," he said.
   During cross examination, defense attorney for NAF, NAC and Green, Stephen Anderson, asked why the city did not fully consider raising the manholes out of the landfill to where they could be accessed.
   "You still don't have access to the sewer line, so every time you have a problem you're still digging down," Wauford responded to Anderson's questioning.
   The defense also presented an expert witness, also an engineer, who testified that he thought the city took the wrong course of action in the matter.
   E. Roberts Alley is the chairman of E. Roberts Alley and Associates, an environmental engineering consulting firm. "In my opinion, that sewer was not damaged," he said. "My opinion was that was a perfectly clear sewer."
   Alley stated to the court that he had visited the sewer site and had read the plans of the sewer and other reports related to it. He believed the sewer was not backed up but, rather, overloaded.
   In addition, he said the sewer had had no problems at the time the landfill was capped and that capping the landfill would make the sewer less susceptible to damage. He stated that the cap prevented storm water from seeping into the area of the sewer and that, since plants cannot grow in fly ash, roots would not be able to damage the sewer as well.
   Alley told the court that he felt the city had chosen poorly in its decision to reroute the sewer. "To me that's a terrible choice," he said. "That thing works and why reroute something that works."
   Because the sewer line belongs to the city and the city knew that NAF was using the site as a landfill and did not move to stop it, Alley said that the problem has nothing to do with NAF, NAC or Green. "The city should have therefore, because it was their responsibility, built up the manholes in anticipation or built them up year by year with the landfill," he said. "The city did not execute its responsibility."
   The court also heard from former employees of NAF and Elizabethton City Manager Charles Stahl, who advised the court of how the situation with the sewer line came to his attention and of his attempts to discuss with Green ways to rectify the situation.
   Brad Moffitt, finance director and city clerk for Elizabethton, testified about the cost of the project and the capital appreciation bond that was used to fund it. Moffitt stated the principal borrowed was over $1.2 million and with the added interest, the city would be paying back a total of more than $3.5 million over the next 29 years.
   Former Superintendent of Utilities John R. Campbell was called in to testify by the defense to show that the city knew of the landfill previously and did nothing about it at that time. "I didn't say anything because I didn't think it was my place to," Campbell said, adding that at the time the sewer was laid and the land began to be used as a landfill, he was chief operator of the city's sewer plant.
   The trial is expected to conclude tomorrow as the last witness in the case, Charles Green, takes the stand.