Grinder pumps exist all over Baldwin County and a large percentage of them are installed unnecessarily.

Developers love them because it saves them money in construction and the poor consumer, most often, does not even know what a grinder pump is.

What the developer/builder does not tell you is that the pump may only last 5 years and the cost of replacement is all yours. They also do not inform the consumer that power is necessary for the pump to operate. Most units will fill to capacity, without power, in just a few days, then guess what happens? If lighting hits the unit, it is fried, get your checkbook out. Then there is maintenance, usually the topic of maintenance does not come up till it is too late.

The Mayor of Fairhope has made the city’s position clear:

From the Desk of Mayor Wilson,

In the past administrations, Fairhope turned a blind to the rules, some developers were allowed to use grinder pumps, it's called good ole boys. To get around the rules a "connected" developer/builder would go see the Mayor who would say that he would see what he could do and that they needed to talk with the utility director.

Guess who the hell was the utility director? the Mayor. That’s right, the Mayor wore two hats and collected two checks from the city, not counting what he got from the developer!

That is why some housing developments, within the city, have grinder pumps.

Mayor Wilson has hired personal that are very well educated in municipal sewer systems and grinder pumps. No more good ole boy deals where the consumer is taken advantage of. Mayor Wilson wears one hat and her major concern is the citizens of Fairhope.

Subdivision developers clash with Fairhope operations director over sewer standards

by Jane Nicholes - The Courier

Two subdivision developers before the Fairhope Planning Commission Jan. 4 sought waivers from the city’s requirements for installing sewers, leading to debate over when such waivers should be granted. It’s a debate happening more frequently, said city operations director Richard Peterson.

In the proposed Van Antwerp Park subdivision, the waiver was not approved. In the case of Phase 5 of Battles Trace, the developer agreed to come back to the commission with more data to justify the request.

“It’s not about what I think or anyone else thinks. It’s really about what our standards say that we’ve adopted,” Peterson said. “We’ve been trying to work with these developers for the last several months to make them understand.”

Fairhope requires gravity sewer systems in new subdivisions. Peterson said sewage from a customer’s home flows into the city’s transmission system via gravity. The transmission system uses pumps that are maintained and operated by the city.

The two developers before the Planning Commission on Jan. 4 sought hardship exemptions to install low pressure systems, which employ grinder pumps at the side of each house that pump sewage into the city’s system. Grinder pumps cost $3,500 apiece, are maintained by the individual homeowners and in general must be replaced every 10 years, Peterson said. The cost is born by the builder and later by the homeowner, he said.

Gravity systems with a single pump station are the higher standard, but are more expensive for the developer than low pressure systems, Peterson said. But city regulations allow for exemptions if installing a gravity system under certain circumstances such as unusual land conditions or situations that would make a gravity system cost prohibitive.

Van Antwerp Park is an 11-lot subdivision proposed on the north side of Pensacola Avenue between North Section Street and North Mobile Street. Phase 5 of the Battles Trace subdivision, owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama, makes up 73 lots on the north side of Battles Road, north of the Colony at the Grand. Van Antwerp Park proposed two options, a low pressure system and a combination of low pressure and gravity systems, both using grinder pumps.

Extensive documentation presented to the Planning Commission indicated that, among other arguments, the gravity system would cost 500 percent more. Planning staff recommended that city standards be met as part of the subdivision approval.

“The rules haven’t changed. It’s the interpretation of the rules by the new utilities director,” said Larry Smith of S.E. Civil Engineering, representing the developer. Until current Mayor Karin Wilson defeated Tim Kant in 2016, Kant had long held the position of utilities superintendent in addition to his part-time role as mayor.

Last year, Wilson hired Peterson, an engineer, as operations director and later appointed him to the Planning Commission. Peterson told Gulf Coast Media that in the past developers became used to what he called “loose interpretations” of the standards by the city. He said city regulations exist to protect homeowners and the city, and sewer system regulations are no different from those for building setbacks, lot sizes, drainage, parking, street construction and others.

If waivers are granted routinely, he said, “Then there’s no real measure of confidence, when anybody buys, that it meets any standard. If we don’t require people to meet our standards, then we’re not doing our job.” Battles Trace is more complicated. Dating back to about 2005, each of the previous phases of the subdivision have low pressure sewers. RSA is seeking to tie Phase 5 into the existing system. Planning Commission members were told that Phase 5 would be the last phase seeking the exemption because of a ridge bisecting the property; the next phase would have to be on a different system.

Battles Trace representatives said that installing a gravity system in Phase 5 would require disturbing the yards and digging up streets in the first four phases to run 3,200 feet of a new system from Phase 5. Such a requirement would be cost prohibitive and disruptive to the existing residents, they said. Again, the staff recommendation was that Phase 5 should be required to meet city standards, and SUBMITTED PHOTOS Peterson said the developer had not provided data to prove an economic hardship. Battles Trace representatives said they would come back before the Planning Commission at a later meeting with such data rather than ask for a vote on Jan. 4. Peterson said his point is simply that the city should enforce its own requirements. The exceptions should not be the rule. They should be the exceptions.”