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Wastewater-treatment plant gets grand opening in Richmond Hill
Jennifer Oetgen, third from left, lead project engineer for Richmond Hill's new wastewater-treatment plant, talks about the facility with, in foreground from left, Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed; U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga.; Richmond Hill City Councilman Johnny Murphy; and others during the plant's grand opening Monday. - photo by Brent Zell

Richmond Hill’s new $25 million wastewater-treatment plant was officially opened Monday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the facility at 1701 Elbow Swamp Road.

The state-of-the-art plant — the largest single expenditure in the city’s history — will allow Richmond Hill to handle up to 3 million gallons of wastewater per day, which is double its current usage, with the ability to expand to take on 4 million gallons per day.

The ceremony’s speakers included Mayor Harold Fowler; U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga.; and state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah.

Fowler said Monday’s event was “a long time coming,” as there were plans when he was sworn into office six years ago to build a new plant. He said some believed that a new treatment plant was not needed, especially not one of the new facility’s size.

However, the city came under a consent order to build a new plant from the state’s Environmental Protection Division. The city spent thousands of dollars violating discharge permits and spills over the past 10 years, according to previous Bryan County News reports, and regularly paid the EPD for going past the allowed discharge levels of ammonia.

And there was the city’s growth to consider. Richmond Hill’s population in 2014, according to the U.S. Census, was 11,229, compared to 6,959 in 2000.

“This system will not only meet today’s need; it will meet all of our needs in near future,” Fowler said.

Carter began his comments by jokingly asking the audience, “Isn’t this just where you want to be on a Monday morning — at a wastewater-treatment plant?” Then, the congressman shifted toward congratulating Richmond Hill’s city leaders for their vision in bringing the plant to life.

“This is what I refer to as the nuts and bolts of city government because this is vitally important. It is very important,” Carter said.

The congressman can speak from experience. While he was mayor of Pooler, from 1996-2004, Carter oversaw the building of a 2½-million-gallon per day wastewater-treatment plant. Carter said there’s a connection with projects like that and the growth that Pooler has seen.

According to the U.S. Census website, Pooler has gone from a population of 6,239 in 2000 to 22,251 in 2014.

“I would like to think it’s because of good planning and good infrastructure that we’re able to capitalize and grow like we are now because of what was done before, years before,” he said. “It is important, and that’s why this is going to pay dividends for years to come.”

Stephens echoed Carter’s comments.

“Take a ride through Pooler today. That could not happen without what you’re seeing today,” he said.

Lead project engineer Jennifer Oetgen of Hussey Gay Bell, the engineering firm that also designed Pooler’s facility, said the Richmond Hill plant will “put the cleanest water possible back into the Ogeechee River” and praised the City Council for getting the right technology to not only handle growth, but also do it in an environmentally sound way.

The facility is being paid for with an $8-per-month increase to the base rate of water-and-sewer rates, as well as higher connection fees and more billing of heavy-water users.

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