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City changes Historic Camden sewer project again

Avoids crossing property west of Broad Street

Posted: April 3, 2014 5:41 p.m.
Updated: April 4, 2014 5:00 a.m.

The city of Camden is working on a plan that would keep the city from having to dig a trench on Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site property on the west side of Broad Street. Thursday, City Manager Mel Pearson said the city now hopes to install sections of a force main sewer line around Rhame Arena on the east side of Broad Street. That would follow part of a path already planned for a gravity sewer line being installed as part of the same project, he said.

“City council and city staff must consider the larger community when making system improvements. We have decided to replace the portion of the sewer line that was planned to be on the west side of Hwy. 521 to an area between Rhame Arena and Zemp Stadium on city property,” Pearson said. “This change protects the southwest corner of Broad and Bull streets, an area Historic Camden claims to be most valuable.”

Pearson said the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) gave verbal approval for permits to allow the change.

He pointed out that the change does not reflect the “least cost plan,” but is still “economically sound.”

“Staff is still working out the engineering details and anticipates an increase in cost of approximately $8,000 to $10,000. Our local department of transportation (office) has been very helpful while considering multiple highway encroachment options,” Pearson said.

A little less than 24 hours earlier, Historic Camden Executive Director Joanna Craig, Historic Camden Foundation Board Member Bill Denton and S.C. State Archaeologist Jon Leader expressed their objections to the city’s original plans. During a joint interview at Craig’s office, Leader said that portion of Historic Camden property, bordered by Bull Street to the north, Meeting Street to the south and Church Street to the west, was deeded to Historic Camden by the Camden Cemetery Association. Although Leader said a “fine grain” search for graves was not conducted as part of a major survey of the property in the 1970s, the fact that the property was once owned by a cemetery association makes it sacrosanct. He also said the 40-year-old survey did prove the original town of Camden’s existence at that location.

Leader, along with other volunteers, worked until dusk Wednesday to search for artifacts where a city of Camden contractor had removed a long, 10-foot-wide strip of topsoil along the east side of Broad Street. The topsoil removal was preparation for heavier equipment to come later in the day and begin digging trenches for the force main and gravity lines. Craig said volunteers came back Thursday to do more.

“But to do this work properly would take 30 days,” Leader said Wednesday morning.

Recent history

When things happened -- or didn’t -- is a point of contention between Historic Camden and city officials. Telling the story requires going back to January 2013. That’s when, according to Pearson, Historic Camden representatives approached the city about replacing an aging sewer pump very close to Craig’s office. Council approved funds for the project in April 2013. The city initially proposed installing a replacement pump some 400 feet away, but Craig objected stating that the city would have to dig trenches through some of Historic Camden’s most historic ground.

In July 2013, the city and Historic Camden agreed to move the replacement site to a point on South Broad Street across from SCE&G’s Camden office. They did so after looking at a color-coded aerial map of the project.

“We thought it was wonderful,” Craig said of the move, “but we also thought that meant it would be connecting to existing pipes.”

Five months later, in early December 2013, Dunaway signed the easement agreement. At the March 25 work session, Dunaway claimed he did not realize the extent of the work -- not how wide the trenches would be cut nor the proposal to cut through Historic Camden’s western property.

According to Pearson, sections of pipe and other materials were delivered to Historic Camden on February 18.

One month later, March 18, Craig contacted Camden Public Works Director Tom Couch and Assistant Public Works Director Sam Davis with questions about the work being performed at Historic Camden. Davis immediately sent back a digital copy of the same aerial map Craig had looked at in July.

It was only then, she claimed, that she realized the force main would be laid across Historic Camden grounds west of Broad Street.

The city’s original plan entailed boring the force main under Broad Street at the point the trenching stops in back of Rhame Arena, then immediately turning right and trenching northward along a line of trees on the west side of Broad Street. That would have taken the force main to the corner of Broad and Bull streets, turning left and traveling a short distance to a point where the line would turn right again to go north across Bull Street on to city-owned property to meet with an existing manhole.

Craig claimed that when she looked at the map in July, she couldn’t discern a green line demarking the force main’s path. She said she only realized its true path after looking at the digital version on her computer.

With this knowledge, Craig and the board’s feelings about the project changed. Leader was unflinching in his criticism of the city.

“This type of behavior is not what you expect,” he said, claiming the city should have been more forthcoming in detailing to Dunaway exactly what the project would entail.

“They had to know they were going to cross some of the most historic property,” Denton added. “They’re going right through all of the original focus of business in (old) Camden.”

Craig, Denton and Leader also took exception to comments made by Councilman Willard Polk -- a former Historic Camden board member -- during the March 25 work session. Polk had said he felt the only items that might be found in the affected area are rusty nails.

“Comments like that show people are not respectful of the history,” Leader said.

Pearson: enough time for questions

During Thursday’s interview, Pearson defended the city’s work and his staff.

“I keep hearing that city staff did not inform the Historic Camden board about this property. City staff did meet with Historic Camden leadership and discussed the project,” Pearson said. “It is not the city staff’s responsibility to report to the Historic Camden board. The Historic Camden leadership knew that we were installing a new pump station and had months to report to the board. If they had questions about the project, then they did not ask.”

Pearson said Historic Camden had six months after the plans were prepared to ask questions before Dunaway signed the agreement. He noted that another two months went by after Dunaway signed over the easements. Then, Pearson said, the pipes were placed on the job site in February and another 28 days passed before anyone from Historic Camden called the city.

“I believe that if someone placed 1,000 feet of pipe in your front yard, you would be asking some questions, and I don’t think it would take you 28 days. The project has been on the table for almost a year,” Pearson said.

In addition, he said city council has received several emails from individuals outside the community about the project.

“They claim the city did not allow enough time for archaeologists to dig the easement area. Their concerns are well intentioned. However, they have been misinformed about the available time to dig for artifacts in advance of the sewer line project,” he said. “Historic Camden has asked over several years for the city to replace the pump station. We have heard that the pump station is, in part, a reason that Historic Camden cannot receive national park status. City council approved the budgeted item a year ago at Historic Camden’s request.”

During the March 25 work session, Pearson informed council of a request by Historic Camden board members to continue the force main alongside Rhame Arena next to Broad Street by boring about 12 feet under a line of trees there. He told council that staff did not originally choose that route because of future maintenance issues. He repeated those concerns Thursday.

“It dawned on us that someone would have to dig 12 feet deep … with 10-foot wide trench boxes. That’s so wide, we believe the building (Rhame) to be at risk. So why put someone in that position to repair pipes in that space?” Pearson said.

He agreed with Polk on March 25 that scenario could be potentially hazardous.

As the work session conversation unfolded, Polk suggested a compromise: instead of turning north on the west side of Broad Street where the line of trees is located, the bore could continue to a point that intersects with an existing ditch left over from the 1970s surveys. A trench would then be dug a short distance to the northwest along the ditch then turn north to Bull Street where it would cross the street and continue onto city-owned property to meet an existing manhole.

Council agreed to Polk’s plan and Pearson informed Dunaway to go back to his board to obtain a new easement agreement. He was told, however, that if a new easement agreement was not forthcoming, the city would return to its original plan to follow the west line of trees.

Historic Camden sent a letter to the city on March 28 agreeing to sign over the new easements. Craig and Denton said the board then spent the weekend looking over the site and poring through documents, including those referencing the Camden Cemetery Association. After deciding that the western property was, in effect, hallowed ground, they sent a second letter on Monday rescinding their intention to sign the easement agreement. And then the call went out for help to dig for artifacts ahead of the trenching.

During Wednesday’s interview at Historic Camden, Leader showed off small plastic bags filled with some of the items volunteers had found. They included small sections of clay smoking pipes, shards of pottery, evidence of post holes and trash midden, a piece of glass possibly from a wine bottle, and a piece of window pane.

“What you have is an intact 18th century landscape under shallow dirt,” he said.

“Or, in essence, you have Camden,” Craig said.

A new plan

The change to have the force main go around Rhame Arena will follow the gravity line path as far as crossing Bull Street to the northeast corner of the intersection. While the gravity line will turn right to a Cooper Street pump station, contractors will use the boring technique to go under Broad Street to get to the city-owned property on the northwest corner. There were many factors, Pearson said, the city had to take into consideration.

“We have to first go through our engineers and estimate the cost, then go to our contractor to make sure they agree, because they might need extra money,” he said, during an earlier interview Wednesday afternoon.

Factors include the timing of the project; whether or not the city can obtain revised DHEC permits; encroachments permits from the S.C. Department of Transportation, if necessary; recalculations of flow, directionality and capacity; construction documents, including a new survey; and checking for existing utility underground utility lines.

“There are gas lines buried on that historic ground,” Pearson said. “What city staff and the council want is to finish the project at the lowest cost to taxpayers, to benefit Historic Camden as they requested, but also to benefit the entire city, especially that side of town.”

He also said that the city is performing this project precisely to uphold Historic Camden’s status within the historic district, it’s affiliation with the park service and its goal to be a national park.

“If this project can help them become the tourism asset they can be at some point in time, then it will be money well spent,” Pearson said.

Camden Mayor Tony Scully emailed the following statement Thursday:

“Historic Camden is a tremendously important Colonial site in America and all of us care deeply about its preservation. I am personally saddened to see this sewer replacement project develop into a last-minute crisis. The city has tried at every step of the way to accommodate the requests of Historic Camden and some late changes have been made by mutual agreement. I feel confident we will find a good resolution.”

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