Sustainable Infrastructure Reaches Higher Ground in the Town of Robbins

With more frequent and severe flooding, wastewater system improvements could prevent more than $3M in future repairs.

Chris Bushnell
May 18, 2023
image for Sustainable Infrastructure Reaches Higher Ground in the Town of Robbins

Navigating the Aftermath

In September 2018, Hurricane Florence battered the Carolinas. Flooding devastated communities on the coast and hundreds of miles inland. Highwater surpassed record levels set by Hurricane Hazel in October 1954. Like folks in many small towns, residents of Robbins found themselves in a state of crisis.

We were almost completely cut off from the outside world. There were only two roads that were open.
Clint Mack, Robbins Town Manager

Upstream floodwaters surged into Robbins. They spilled over the banks of waterways, swamping homes and businesses as well as disrupting public services. Flooding impacted critical components of the municipal wastewater system, making an already dangerous situation even worse. Overwhelmed, local leaders reached out for help.

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Finding a Path Forward

The Town called The Wooten Company, a civil engineering firm they had contracted in the past for partnership on public utility projects. John Grey, PE heads Wooten’s Western Division out of its Winston-Salem office. He traveled to Robbins to assess wastewater system damage and devise a plan for a resilient system.

Gray noted that the actual wastewater treatment plant sits at an elevation that did not flood. But he observed multiple issues at the lift station that pumps sewage to the plant. Floodwater halted pump function, ruined electrical panels, and disabled the backup generator.

Additionally, the storm damaged the outfall pipe that carries treated wastewater away from the plant and across a creek for proper discharge. Flooding dislodged the aerial pipe from its supporting concrete piers. As a result, treated wastewater was flowing into the creek – environmentally safe, but in violation of the Town’s permit. Grey’s project team developed an approach to address the failures and improve the system’s performance.

Incorporating Resilient System Elements

The pre-existing pump had open basins that were vulnerable to flooding. A new submersible pump – watertight and installed underground – functions even if the land above it becomes engulfed in water.

The design shifted electrical equipment in the flood plain to a platform at a higher elevation on the lift station property. That way, even in the event of significant flooding, the system can still power the pump.

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A series of filters called headworks remove solid objects from sewage before moving on to treatment. By relocating the headworks from the lift station to the treatment plant, the system will operate during a flood.

The project called for new concrete piers to support a replaced section of aerial pipe crossing the creek. This fix enabled the Town to comply with its permit and discharge its treated wastewater properly.

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Securing Project Funding

The project came with a $2.3M price tag. Because the Town did not have flood insurance for the lift station, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved $500K in relief. Wooten staff helped Robbins apply for additional funding from the Golden LEAF Foundation through the state’s Disaster Recovery Grant Program.

Golden LEAF is proud to help the Town of Robbins recover from Hurricane Florence. These improvements will help the town be more resilient to future flooding.
Scott Hamilton, Golden LEAF President

Standing Stronger Today

Once the Wooten project team finished design and secured required permits, the Town accepted bids from contractors to construct the project. In July 2021, crews completed improvements at the lift station and treatment facility.

The upgraded system enables our town to endure another dramatic environmental event like Hurricane Florence. The engineering, design, and execution have been flawless.
Clint Mack, Robbins Town Manager

With more severe weather occurring more often, the Town has the reassurance of a sustainable system in place. Wooten engineers project that the wastewater system improvements will prevent more than $3M in future repairs.