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Board looks for ways to prevent a repeat of copper theft

By Tia Lyons
This article was published February 13, 2018 at 5:00 a.m.

The El Dorado Water Utilities is working to prevent copper theft at its facilities following a recent break-in at one of the utilities’ wastewater lift stations.

John Peppers, EWU treatment manager, told advisory board members about the break-in during the group’s regular monthly meeting on Jan. 8, the same day the break-in occurred.

Peppers said the suspect(s) cut the locks from the gates at Lift Station No. 2, which is located on Shadow Lane, and stole the leads from a backup generator.

“They had to know they were there because they’re not visible,” Peppers said.

Without power to the lift station, a sanitary sewer overflow could occur within minutes, he said.

Lift stations pump wastewater to higher elevations in areas where there is not sufficient gravity flow.

On Monday, Peppers said No. 2 lift station serves the Murmil Heights neighborhood and catches the effluent that’s pumped from Life Station No. 1, which serves the Union County Jail.

“That lift station is the most critical,” he said.

EWU employees previously said No. 2 is also the most remote of the utilities’ lift stations.

“Somebody could go down there and work for hours and go undetected,” Mayor Frank Hash said Monday.

Hash asked where the effluent from No. 2 flows when an SSO occurs, and advisory board member Glenn Holmes and Robert Edmonds, director of public works, said the effluent flows into a nearby creek.

“It goes into the area around it,” Peppers added.

He said the break-in and copper theft caused approximately $2,500 in damage and loss.

Sustained SSOs can also lead to stiff fines from state and federal environmental protection agencies, Holmes said.

Peppers said the EWU has repaired the generator and is looking into options to help prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.

Hash inquired about an automatic switchover device, and Peppers said the equipment is expensive, but he will look further into costs.

Board members and Alderman Dianne Hammond said the EWU can work with local scrapyards to further address the matter.

City officials said scrapyards have stepped up efforts to tackle copper thefts, including requiring fingerprints from people who are looking to sell.

Holmes said he visited a local scrapyard and saw “brand new copper pipe” that looked familiar.

“I know it came from the water company,” he said.

In other business, Phyllis Waller, EWU business and administration manager, said the EWU is scheduling a meeting with representatives from area water associations to assist with debt collection.

The utilities has stepped up efforts to settle delinquent accounts from customers who relocate to other areas and set up new accounts with other water utilities and water associations while still in arrears with the EWU.

“I’m still waiting on a head count on who will attend. We’re hosting a meeting to discuss a data base for debt collection,” Waller said, adding that the meeting is set for Thursday.

Advisory board members agreed to reschedule a tour of the EWU’s two wastewater treatment plants and northeast well field on Champagnolle Road.

The board had planned to tour the facilities Monday, but due to inclement weather and the lack of a quorum, Holmes and board member Billy Green agreed to postpone the tour.

Waller also introduced EWU employee Lisa White, who has taken on customer service responsibilities.

“She handles customer complaints and issues,” Waller said.

Hammond commended White and other EWU employees, saying “I don’t have as many phone calls, so y’all are doing a good job.”

The advisory board will next meet at 8:30 a.m. March 12.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@eldoradonews.com.

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