Sewage backs up into hundreds of Moyock, NC homes; Why Currituck County says they can’t do anything

North Carolina

MOYOCK, N.C. (WAVY) — Nine days without the ability to use the toilet, wash dishes or shower is nine too many for Moyock homeowner Stephanie Harlow.

“I’m at my wits’ end,” Harlow said Monday morning at her home in the Eagle Creek community, that sits off route 158 in Moyock.

Harlow, and what neighbors describe as the vast majority of the 440 homeowners, are waiting for repairs to the suction system that utilizes sewage pits that are shared by neighboring homes.

“We are at nine days. Nine. And it’s not fixed, and we’re not really getting any help from anybody, that’s why we reached out to you guys,” Harlow said, referring to 10 On Your Side.

She showed how the drain water isn’t going into the sewage pit, and instead backs up into her home unless she opens a cap on the side and lets it flow into her yard. She keeps a supply of beach towels ready in case she needs to sop up any back-ups.

Joshua Langlois has had a similar experience.

“At any time, sewage can come out of the bottom of your toilet,” Langlois said. He has taken his four kids and pregnant wife to a hotel. Not just to have a working bathroom, but to keep their little ones from playing with sewage.

“I can’t fathom that, with waste going into the environment, it then can’t become a county issue,” Langlois said.

It’s one of the reasons Langlois spoke in front of the Currituck County Board of Commissioners Monday night. He asked for commissioners to provide port-a-potties or access to showers nearby.

Commissioners said they couldn’t do that, however, because the community and utility are on private property.

The utility is owned by Sandler Utilities of Virginia Beach. Calls to Sandler were not immediately returned Monday.

However, a representative with the contractor they hired to manage the services several months ago — Envirolink — briefed commissioners on the problem and what is being done to fix it.

On Monday, Sept. 28, both of the vacuum pumps that service the community septic system failed according to Tracy Miller, the site coordinator with Envirolink. The vacuums help empty out the 15-gallon pots that two homes share.

He said upon inspection, both vacuum pumps were found to be old and in poor mechanical condition. Ultimately, Miller said it was water inside the pump housing that caused the ultimate failure.

“I don’t think there is any way of knowing the pump was in as bad of shape as it was,” Miller told commissioners.

To fix the issue, Miller said a replacement pump had to fetched from Indiana, 16 hours away.

Up to three pump trucks in the meantime are working to empty out pots in the community.

Miller hopes that work will be done by Tuesday but warns the discovery of additional leads is making things go slowly.

Homeowner Fred Whiteman — who also is president of the homeowners association — wants the utility to have “an adequate number of pump trucks that would service the entire community within a 24-hour period, rather than it taking two or three days for the pump trucks to pump out one home.”

He also wants Sandler to bring port-a-potties to the neighborhood. He said following 10 On Your Sides calls, he finally heard from them.

“They stated that they would be providing port-a-potties tomorrow,” Whiteman said. “Wish they would have come a little sooner but they are at least reaching out to ask what we need for the community.”

County Manager Ben Stikeleather acknowledged the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is aware and the health department can fine the utility for unsanitary conditions.

Miller suggested that the county consider requiring the utility to fix several issues upon granting a modification to a conditional use permit.

Mainly, he suggests requiring a backup vacuum pump, upgraded controls to the vacuum station, collaboration with the manufacturer on modifications to the pots to make them more reliable (have valves in the controller be watertight versus water-resistant), allow the valves to be manually activated moving forward and finally never approve 15-gallon pots for two homes again. Miller said it is not adequate.  

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