Emerson faces fixing 'failing' system
by Jessica Loeding
Aug 24, 2010 | 2735 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Emerson City Manager Kevin McBurnett stands along the shoulder of Old Alabama Road east of its intersection with Sixth Street. Old Alabama Road is a problem area for the city, requiring repairs estimated at more than $100,000. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Standing in the center of Old Alabama Road east of its intersection with Sixth Street, Emerson City Manager Kevin McBurnett begins pointing out flaws. The alligator trails. The dips. The absence of shoulders. The minuscule and debris-filled ditches. And on and on.

That was May. McBurnett said then that the city was shooting for repair work to be completed during summer break for Bartow County Schools.

"We plan on having this done during summer vacation for kids. That's the only reason I've waited is trying to help the school out. When you work here you can't just shut down a lane, there's too much traffic. So we have to shut down this road," he said. "I didn't want to route the buses around it. It would have caused a lot of problems for Bartow County Schools."

Unfortunately, those plans were interrupted.

During a June city council meeting, the council approved a contract for engineering services for repaving and drainage work on the roughly half-mile portion of Old Alabama Road between Bethany Baptist Church and Sixth Street. In an e-mail in late July, McBurnett said the city had not received plans from the engineer, and on Aug. 2 added that the city had been unable to complete the work during the school system's break.

"Unfortunately, our well-laid plans fell through and we were unable to pave during the summer break. We still await plans from the engineer's office and upon receipt and approval will begin the bid process. It is the city's intent to work with the school system to minimize any burdens this project may cause," he said in an e-mail.

In a council meeting this month, McBurnett reported that surveyors had encountered problems for which solutions were not yet available. He said during surveying it was discovered that the rights of way are uneven on both sides of the road, ranging from 30 to 40 feet.

Flooding and funds

During heavy rains last September, the drainage along Old Alabama Road became overwhelmed. Water, with nowhere else to go, channeled under the roadway and washed out the road bed.

"That's what caused this situation," McBurnett said of flooding last fall.

"That rain was so significant and the ground couldn't take any more water. You had such a volume of water coming down here, and it picked up so much debris it stopped up ditches, drain culverts, and from there it starts running up under, it channels up under that asphalt. ... You put water in there it starts getting squishy, then it starts easing out as it drains back out and then it flattens out on us. Drainage is what has caused this."

To fix the alligator trails and sunken spots, the city spent $2,600 on patch paving as a temporary repair. But completely repairing the road may cost more than the city can afford.

"You're looking at us coming in and we're going to be saw cutting out all of this [asphalt], digging the dirt out that's up under it then repacking it in, and we'll have to come over and fix the ditches, try to get these all cleaned up, get some shoulders back on them where it started eating them out," McBurnett said, adding piping is part of the solution. "It needs to be curbed and guttered with pipes up under it, but if you do that you're talking half million, million dollars. ... That's money the city doesn't have."

Because the city did not allocate Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds for that roadway, those monies may not be available for a majority of the repair work, which is expected to top $100,000.

"We have some SPLOST funding for miscellaneous paving and that will pay for at least the paving right through here. We have some SPLOST funding for storm sewer ditches ... we'll probably use a little bit of it and the rest will come out of local funds," McBurnett said.

When Carter Grove Subdivision began construction, developers and the cities of Emerson and Cartersville entered into an agreement for future repairs.

"We originally did an agreement with Carter Grove subdivision and the city of Cartersville, and what it stated was so many houses that were built there, they were going to come in and do road improvements. Unfortunately, the economy turned and there's no houses being built, so they don't have to do anything here. We're kinda stuck," McBurnett said.

While grants may be available, the right of way along that portion of Old Alabama Road is insufficient for Department of Transportation opportunities.

"There's only a 40-foot right of way in this area. And if you get any kind of big money from anybody that's out there, you have to have a larger right of way," he said, adding that Emerson's only options are SPLOST or DOT funds. "This is all local funds is what this is going to be."

Where the problems start

Although Old Alabama Road is a priority for Emerson, it's just the beginning for an infrastructure that has begun to show its age.

"We have water problems, sewer problems, stormwater problems, road problems," McBurnett said.

A large portion of Emerson's water and sewer system is 2.5-inch galvanized pipe installed in 1949. That is more than 60 years on a pipe with a life expectancy of 25 years.

As the pipe aged, it became brittle and developed leaks. But replacing the roughly 40 miles of piping in the city is slow, costly work.

"That's one of the things we are looking at right now is trying to come up with a solution for water and sewer line. ... Galvanized line starts to deteriorate, when it does it rusts and it'll start having pinholes all through it, so you just have small seeping leaks all through it," McBurnett explained, saying the city loses about 53 percent of its water to leaks.

Mayor Al Pallone said understanding the scope of the problem is just the first step.

He said the city is contracting work that will go through the city's sewer lines and prioritize the worst locations. That doesn't mean the lines will be fixed. The estimated cost of repairing the city's entire piping system reaches into the millions.

"The concern you have with the sewer system is where there's a bad place, water is getting in. What we are doing is paying to treat clean water. There's a cost factor to doing nothing, but the problem is it's very, very expensive. We don't have the resources. I mean, basically, Emerson survives on [Local Option Sales Tax] and SPLOST [funds] to pay for those type things, just to keep the city running so there really isn't extra money to do that kind of stuff," Pallone said.

City has "to get smart" with answers

The problems facing the city, in the end, affect residents and future plans for the town.

McBurnett said the woes impact citizens in "100 different ways," from raising water and sewer rates to lowering property values.

"It is a failing infrastructure and it's sad to say that people don't look at their infrastructure," he said.

Pallone said addressing the most pressing issues is key. "We've got to get smart with it. That's why we are looking at prioritizing [the problem areas of the sewer system.]

"What I'd like to see is Emerson be attractive. ... It would be nice to be able fix the infrastructure first because that makes it more attractive to business," Pallone added. "But without the business, without the base, we can't do it."