W&A Engineering has partnered with two mobile and manufactured home communities in Athens, Georgia to connect them to public sewer systems, improve the residents’ quality of life, and minimize the environmental footprint of community infrastructure.
Over the past year, W&A has been working with the buyers of both Pinewood Estates and Country Corners to develop a plan to connect the communities to public sanitary sewer and remove the existing infrastructure. With the additional partnership of Athens-Clarke County Unified Government, decades of structural, environmental, and social issues will soon be addressed.
“Not everyone is going to live in a $500,000 single family home or downtown apartment at $1,200 per bedroom. Mobile homes meet the needs for lots of local families,” said W&A Government and Community Services Director Buck Bacon, PMP. “We think it’s important to create agency for all community members and want to work with everyone to sustain their housing.”
Athens residents may recognize Pinewood Estates and Country Corners from their mention in local papers over the years. Articles with headlines such as “Pond at North Athens Trailer Park Spills About 1.5 Million Gallons of Sewage into Creek” and “Athens Mobile Home Park Residents Struggle with Failing Septic Systems” have dominated the news coverage of these residential communities for over a decade.
Two of Athens’s oldest mobile and manufactured home communities, both Pinewood Estates and Country Corners have relied on oxidation ponds from their original construction as their primary means of treating wastewater. With an increased residential population and aging infrastructure, the health of the ponds has continued to decline resulting in uninhabitable conditions for residents and untreated sewage discharging into surrounding water systems.
Trail Creek, for example, suffered a large sewage spill from the Country Corners oxidation pond in 2021 and is locally infamous for its “abnormally high levels of fecal coliforms,” as reported by the Upper Oconee Watershed Network.
In 2016, a “boil water notice” was served to the residents of Pinewood Estates, warning them not to drink the water unless it was first boiled. This notice affected more than 150 Athens residents.
These environmental impacts and resulting public health concerns have contributed to the stigmas surrounding communities like Pinewood Estates and Country Corners.
Athens Housing Authority’s former Executive Director Rick Parker addressed the stigmas of affordable housing and shared the following before his retirement in 2023: “Everyone is in favor of affordable housing, right up until the point that is, ‘it’s going to be built here.’ Then all kinds of bits come into play. People say, ‘it’s going to destroy my property values. It’s going to have this problem, it’s going to have that problem. We don’t want this in our neighborhood. It’s fine somewhere else, but we don’t want it here.’”
W&A staff took a comprehensive approach to these projects with the intention of not only solving the structural and environmental issues present on site, but also making progress on the social issues which have resulted in years past. In addition to providing innovative and sustainable design solutions, empowering the residents with a sense of dignity and community pride continues to be a major priority for these projects.
Because the existing systems are failing and overwhelmed with ground and stormwater, simply connecting to the communities the county’s public sewer system would not be enough to fix all issues present.
W&A Engineering has been working with the communities to perform smoke testing and other inspections on their existing plumbing and sewer systems to reduce infiltration and inflow. Through this process, deficiencies have been identified and point repaired to create more resilient underground infrastructure that is ready and well-suited to be connected to public lines.
The improvements necessary to update these failing systems are incredibly costly, discouraging action from previous park owners. Because of this, W&A project team members have served as client and stakeholder advocates with local government, securing an agreement with Athens-Clarke County Unified Government to offset the cost of this connection and making the improvements far more feasible to site owners.
“A lot of mobile and manufactured home parks face a lot of these same issues, and there are opportunities to apply this work to other communities in other counties,” said Bacon. “This is a great partnership with the community, local government, and the investors. It’s a big deal.”