Bluffton sewage spill won't reach May River, officials say

dburley@islandpacket.comJanuary 27, 2014 

Environmental officials said Monday that sewage that leaked from a sewer pipe in Bluffton will not enter the May River.

About 6,500 gallons of raw sewage poured from a leaking, pressurized sewer main Sunday near the intersection of Bluffton Parkway and Buckwalter Parkway, according to the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority.

Most of the overflow was contained in a nearby storm drain, but some trickled into an adjacent low-lying area, according to BJWSA spokesman Matthew Brady.

After stopping the leak, BJWSA crews pumped nearly 12,000 gallons of sewage and water out of the storm drain and nearby area, according to director of field operations Joe DeVito.

"Can we be certain that we picked up all of the water that spilled? No," DeVito said. "But we do our best to pick up as much as possible."

The leaking sewer line served the neighborhoods near the intersection, including Hampton Hall and Shell Hall.

DeVito said the spill's relatively small volume and its distance from the May River make it unlikely the sewage would migrate to the river.

"This was very localized," he said.

To be certain, BJWSA is working with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the town of Bluffton to "mitigate any effects caused by the overflow" and monitor fecal coliform levels at sites determined by the town, according to a news release Monday.

BJWSA will use fecal coliform data from the town to determine whether levels increased near the spill site, DeVito said. Much of the town's data were collected as part of its May River Watershed Action Plan, which aims to clean up pollution and reduce increased fecal coliform levels that closed shellfishing in the river's headwaters.

"If in worst case, we notice fecal levels are higher, we'll keep sampling and monitoring," DeVito said.

"To be honest with you, we really don't anticipate higher levels," Brady added.

In an emailed statement, DHEC spokeswoman Lindsey Evans said the department was notified Monday morning and visited the scene.

"The sewage flowed into an area with no flowing water and the sewage was contained," Evans wrote. "Cleanup is being completed. We will continue to work with BJWSA to ensure proper cleanup."

The spill occurred Sunday after a 12-inch pressurized sewer main split, Brady said.

Warning signs have been posted in the area of the spill, which is protocol for any spill that is more than 5,000 gallons, Brady said. The authority deals with about a dozen spills a year, he said.

DeVito said there were not enough "solids" in the spill to cause an unpleasant odor.

The news release said while there is no immediate risk to human health, people should avoid the area until the signs are removed.

Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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