BOONE — The Cottages of Boone reported a wastewater tank overflow on Sept. 14 that deposited approximately 4,725 gallons of untreated wastewater into the Laurel Fork Creek.
Lon Snider, environmental regional supervisor with NC Department of Environmental Quality’s Water Quality Regional Operations Section, said the Cottages notified his office around 4 p.m. on Sept. 14 of the issue. To resolve the issue, Snider said the Cottages of Boone had to unclog a suction line to a transfer pump within their wastewater plant.
“This is raw sewage,” Snider said.
He said this type of water has contaminants like fecal coliform — the bacteria found in feces.
In its Sept. 20 press release, the Cottages of Boone stated that the wastewater discharge came from an equalization tank that overflowed as the result of “an emergency mechanical error that occurred at the treatment facility,” but did not mention the suction line referenced by Snider. The press release also stated that a local sludge hauling company pumped 12,000 gallons of raw wastewater from the equalization tank to stop the flow.
This is not the first time the Cottages of Boone has released raw sewage into local waterways. The Watauga Democrat reported the Cottages of Boone discharged 70,000 gallons of untreated wastewater on April 23, 2021, due to an equalization tank overflowing during maintenance.
“We do follow up these violations, usually with repeat offenders we have enforcement actions, civil penalty assessments and increased inspections,” Snider said. “Recently it’s been civil penalty assessments; fines.”
How often the NCDEQ inspects a facility like the Cottages of Boone depends on the facility, Snider said, but usually can be around once a year or once every two years.
At the Cottages, Snider said, “ I can assure you in the last year it’s been multiple, multiple times, and we are planning on going back out there soon.”
The multiple spills has frustrated local environmental organizations.
“I’m rapidly losing patience with the Cottages of Boone,” said Watauga Riverkeeper Andy Hill. “This is a pattern of negligence that is unacceptable.”
He said that he is aware of two civil penalties the NCDEQ has issued to the Cottages of Boone due to their untreated waste discharges, however, he said there needs to be solutions to stop the discharges.
When untreated wastewater is discharged, Hill said his water quality testing finds elevated levels of e. Coli hundreds of times larger than the legal limit set by federal Environmental Protection Agency limits.
Hill said a variety of residences and community spaces are impacted by being downstream of the discharges, where affected water is flowing by people’s homes, the Watauga River, the popular Camp Broadstone owned by Appalachian State University and Valle Community Park, among others.
“They’re not good neighbors,” Hill said.
In the future, he said he wants to see them follow their wastewater plant permit to the letter of the law and not discharge untreated waste into waterways.