Two years after deadly accident, Gatlinburg replaces basin at wastewater plant

Sep. 20, 2013 @ 11:05 PM

The city now has a replacement for the equalization basin that collapsed in 2011, claiming the lives of two workers at its wastewater treatment plant. Additional renovations also are being completed.

The east wall of the old basin collapsed on April 5, 2011. John Eslinger, 53, of and Don Storey, 44, were working in a flow control building under that wall and were killed in the accident. Lawsuits filed by their families remain active in Sevier County Circuit Court.

The basin was used to hold overflow during peak times in the busy tourist town. It could hold about 1 million gallons of water, which would be treated when the flow to the plant fell below peak capacity.

Personnel operated without the basin from then until this past June, when the new basin was completed. For the first few months after the collapse, Veolia Water North America — the company hired by Gatlinburg to oversee the plant — provided a mobile system to help supplement the plant during peak capacity.

In the meantime, the city was able to keep the plant operating and treating the wastewater coming from the city even at peak times by adjusting some components of the plant. It added stress to the plant, and having the basin helps. However, wastewater treatment began again within about 36 hours of the collapse and continued to take place until the new basin was finished.

“The equalization tank does not provide treatment for the wastewater but provides short-term storage to help level out the daily peak flows into the plant,” Utilities Manager Dale Phelps said.

The new basin is a a concrete dome that can hold up to 1 million gallons of wastewater; the old basin was rectangular and had no roof.

As part of the repairs, a storage facility on the site of the new basin was moved, anda second level was added to the operations building. The expansion includes offices and a control room for the plant.

An investigation by the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined a flaw in the wall caused the accident. The agency’s report said the walls were cast in way that created a “cold joint” in the wall that led to leakage and weakening of the wall.

TOSHA didn’t issue any fine for the accident; however, it is limited to investigating whether an employer was responsible for lapses workplace safety, meaning it only analyzed whether Veolia was responsible for any safety flaws.

The city hired an independent engineer to analyze the cause of the accident, but has not released the findings of that analysis. It appears likely the information could be used in the lawsuits filed by the families, which also led to counterclaims among the city and the architect and contractors involved in construction of the collapsed basin.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com