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Historic Camden asks for sewer project change

Posted: March 27, 2014 5:23 p.m.
Updated: March 28, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Tuesday morning, city of Camden officials went down to Broad and Bull streets to instruct a contractor to delay some work on a major sewer project involving Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site. Tuesday afternoon, Camden City Council spent nearly an hour deciding what to do about a request from the Historic Camden Foundation Board to change the proposed path of a new force main being installed along Broad Street.

This marks the second time Historic Camden has asked the city to alter the project, which already involved moving the proposed location for a replacement sewer pump.

The original project, proposed nearly a year ago, involved replacing a pump station located close to Historic Camden’s main office to a point a bit further south, closer to the entrance of a trail that winds down to Big Pine Tree Creek. The station would have been tied into existing sewer lines with 400 feet of pipe. The city would also have laid a gravity line beside an existing force main. The estimated cost: $700,000.

Historic Camden rejected that proposal claiming the portion of the property the new lines would cut across was too historic. In July 2013, Historic Camden asked the city to move the replacement pump station to a point on Broad Street at the southern end of the property across from SCE&G’s Camden office.

In early December, Historic Camden Foundation Board Chair Dr. Tray Dunaway signed easement agreements that firmed up the changes to the project. In order to accommodate the new sewer pump location, the city determined it would have to install a new 6-inch force main from the new pump northward along South Broad Street up to just behind Rhame Arena. From there, the proposal included turning left and boring the line under U.S. 521 to the west side of South Broad Street, then -- using a trenching process -- along a tree line northward to Bull Street and left again for about 100 feet before heading north one last time to an existing manhole cover.

In addition, contractors would lay a new gravity line from the pump station alongside the new force main up to Rhame Arena, then go around the arena to Bull Street, across the street and then right to meet with another pump station at Bull and Cooper streets.

Additional cost: $164,479, for a total of nearly $865,000.

City council agreed to the changes and approved the additional expenditure. In January, council passed final reading of an ordinance authorizing the easement agreement Dunaway had signed. Public Works had already ordered equipment. The city advertised for bids in mid-January, opened them Jan. 21 and instructed contractors to start Jan. 31. In an interview Wednesday morning, Public Works Director Tom Couch said work was delayed by approximately a month because of weather and other factors.

Work finally began approximately two weeks ago, he said.

In the same interview, Couch’s assistant director, Sam Davis, said Historic Camden Executive Director Joanna Craig contacted their department on March 18 asking about trenching work at the new pump station site. That, apparently, led Historic Camden Foundation Board members to re-examine the project, and ended up  focusing on the tree line the force main would follow on the west side of Broad Street across from Rhame Arena. Earlier this week, two board members approached the city with the request to change the force main’s path from the arena to the manhole north of Bull Street.

Tuesday, two contractors were at the pump station site. One was working on the new force main, the other on the new gravity line. They were getting in each other’s way, according to Couch, so the one working on the force main decided to move up to where he would bore the line under U.S. 521 to reach the tree line on the west side of the highway. That’s when city officials told the contractor to hold off, as City Manager Mel Pearson sought instruction from city council.

“The issue of digging on historic property has come up. There’s concern that we may damage the site,” Pearson explained, referring to the line of trees on the west side of Broad Street, which is within a city-owned 20-foot easement. “It may be, slightly, in what was defined as the palisades area by archaeologists in the past.”

The Historic Camden board members’ proposal -- dubbed “Plan C” by Councilwoman Laurie Parks -- would, instead of turning left under U.S. 521, have the city bore the line under a row of trees adjacent to Rhame Arena on the east side of Broad Street. Their proposal would then have the line cross Bull Street at the Broad Street intersection, then turn left under U.S. 521 to the point where it could turn northward to the existing manhole.

“We chose not to do that, initially,” Pearson said of boring under the east line of trees next to Rhame, “because we were trenching and didn’t want to incur the expense of another bore. We intended to save that row of trees that actually camouflages Rhame to some degree. Trenching equipment was too wide between the highway and the building itself without damaging those trees.”

Historic Camden’s new proposal would have the city bore deep enough under the east trees in an effort not to damage them.

Councilman Willard Polk, who once served on the Historic Camden Foundation Board, was adamant that the city keep to the project as linked to the easements Dunaway signed. Although Polk estimated it would cost the city an additional $200,000 to accede to Historic Camden’s new request, Pearson said it would only add $21,000 more to follow its proposed path. Despite that relatively low additional cost, Polk said the city needed to stick to the original revised plan.

Polk also said that the affected property had been archeologically surveyed in the 1970s.

“We have boxes and boxes, and filing cabinets in the Kershaw House with pottery shards, glass, etc., that were excavated in those digs. You could dig any place in Camden, in South Carolina, and turn up some artifact,” he said, and then reiterated his suggestion that the project move forward as determined by Public Works.

Polk later said that he felt the only items that might be found in the affected area are rusty nails.

Parks said she would prefer to allocate the additional $21,000 and move forward with “Plan C.”

“I do it reluctantly -- I think it’s the right thing to do -- (but) I don’t want to be the council that screwed up an historical area … because there was a lack of communication within the Historic Camden board,” Parks said. “There’s no point in pointing fingers, saying ‘you did this, and you did that.’ We need to move forward and do the right thing, and I think this is the right thing.”

Parks did say, however, that Historic Camden needs to ask itself “serious questions” on how this “fell through the cracks.”

Councilman Walter Long agreed with Polk regarding the relative unimportance of anything left under Historic Camden’s grounds. He also agreed that the city had already adjusted the plan at Historic Camden’s request.

“If there are other concerns, I can’t imagine they couldn’t have their archeologist on site … to take notice that he deems it appropriate to consult with the contractors and say, ‘stop, we need to check this information out.’ I don’t understand why that can’t be part of the process,” Long said. “I would rather we hadn’t changed the plan originally. I know we tried to accommodate them. It would have saved our taxpayers more money … and now we’re having to struggle with this. What is going to be dug up that they’re so concerned about?”

Pearson said the latest change request from the Historic Camden board members came about as a result of asking many of the same questions council was posing. All council members agreed that Historic Camden’s initial request to replace and move the pump station came about as a result of it being a nuisance so close to its facilities.

Davis told council Tuesday afternoon that if the city were to bore under the trees lined against Rhame Arena, the city would have to go deeper than boring planned under Historic Camden’s driveway entrance on South Broad Street.

As council considered the possibility of voting on the matter -- something it ultimately chose to decide on by consensus instead -- Pearson said there was one other matter to consider.

“One of our staff members made this point to me yesterday,” he said. “If we do bore that line (under the arena trees), somebody in the future … and I know that Rhame Arena is in question -- but that facility very well may still be there and to dig and work, the sewer line could be 20 feet underground -- (it) would be pretty awful being set up at the highway there…”

“And potentially hazardous,” Polk interjected.

“Could be,” Pearson agreed.

At that point, Polk said he would feel better if he could see a sketch or map of the proposed changes. Council took a short break while Davis and Couch obtained those drawings as Long pointed out that Dunaway had come to the meeting. Dunaway claimed he had not realized how things would work when he signed the easement agreement in December, especially when it came to the trenching necessary to lay pipe along South Broad Street. He said he was concerned that the trenches turned out to be 10 feet wide through most of the area the contractors are working.

“Did we have an idea they were going to be 10-feet wide? No,” Dunaway said, claiming that if he had known that from the beginning, he would have asked if there was a different way to go about the work.

Pearson pointed out to Dunaway that the agreement not only included a 20-foot easement, but an additional 10 feet of temporary work space.

“If I sign something that says ’30 feet wide,’ it’s pretty obvious something serious is going to be dug there,” Pearson said.

“But, me, as a non-construction guy … if that’s just totally misinterpreted by me, and my error, they can hang me,” Dunaway replied, later claiming that he was told most, if not all, of the work would entail boring, thereby causing minimal disturbance to Historic Camden.

He and Polk argued briefly over exactly what portion of Historic Camden’s property on the west side of Broad Street had been archeologically surveyed.

Mayor Tony Scully then called for council to move forward with “Plan C.” Polk objected, again citing the additional expense and the potential problems future Public Works employees could face in maintaining the line by Rhame Arena.

Polk then suggested the following alternative: go ahead with the original plan to bore the force main line under U.S. 521 at the south corner of Rhame Arena, but instead of stopping at the west tree line, continue until the boring meets an existing ditch in the middle of Historic Camden’s southwest property. The line would then follow the trench northwestward for a short distance before turning north to Bull Street, running across the street and on to the target manhole.

Davis indicated that would be easier to maintain than under the “Plan C” scenario and that the contractor and Public Works could deal with the change.

“This satisfies the historic aspect of it, it satisfies future maintenance issues, it also eliminates potential safety issues,” Polk declared after Davis, Couch and Pearson spent time going over the options with Dunaway and council.

Dunaway and city officials agreed he would take Polk’s proposal back to Craig and Historic Camden’s archaeologist in order to sign a new agreement within the next two days in order not to delay that part of the project. Pearson agreed to obtain as much “engineering accuracy” as possible for Dunaway to take to the board.

Pearson and Polk indicated, however, that if a new agreement could not be obtained, or if there were any engineering problems involving Polk’s plan, that the city would return to the original alternative designed in 2013.

In other business during the work session, council heard a report on the S.C. Federation of Museum’s recent annual conference in Camden; received a request for $7,500 worth of hospitality tax funds to assist with an upcoming junior tennis tournament; and discussed the upcoming Special Olympics at Camden Military Academy, openings on the Camden Hospitality Tax Committee, the vandalism of signs at Boykin Park, the chamber of commerce’s recent legislative breakfast, the need for assistance with infrastructure repairs, and possible uses for Rhame Arena, including as a year-round open air market in conjunction with the Kershaw County Farmers Market.

Pearson postponed a scheduled presentation on Main Street SC because the program’s manager, Beppie LeGrand, decided not to attend Tuesday’s meeting due to pending inclement weather in the Upstate.

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