James City County, Va.

James City County, Virginia was established in the early 1600’s and bills itself as one of the oldest cities in America. Their history with grinder pumps doesn’t go back quite that far, but let me tell you what I’ve found.

Some Background…

Grinder pumps were first introduced to James City County in the mid 1970’s.  These pumps were installed by developers and are individually owned.  The early owners were offered a perpetual maintenance fee of $300 and eventually $600. In the 1980’s and 1990’s the James City Service Authority (JCSA) stopped and then resumed maintaining the pumps.  Grinder pumps have periodically been added to the system and, although the total number is unclear, in 2005 there were 230 of the lifetime maintenance contracts.  In May 2005 the JCSA recommended existing lifetime contracts be “grandfathered” in, but new customers would be subject to the annual fee, which at that time was $145.80

Why does the JCSA provide a Maintenance Program?

This was largely the decision of the General Manager of the JCSA.  His concern was that individual maintenance would not be at the same level of service provided by the JCSA.  The installed cost of a complete grinder pump assembly is approximately $12,000 (2006 dollars) ;  the pump assembly is approximately $3,000 and has a lifespan of 10-12 years. The maintenance agreement does not cover the cost of replacing the containment can when it is eventually rendered unusable by settling, tree roots or vehicle damage. The JCSA’s stated preference is to not have grinder pumps at all, but they expect no more than 5% of lots in new developments by served by grinder pumps.

Hurricane Isabel – September 2003

During Hurricane Isabel the JCSA found it did not have adequate resources to assure service to grinder pumps during extended power outages. After spending over $50,000 responding to grinder pump failures, they recognized that they could not provide service the 750 homes under grinder pump agreement and still maintain support to the remaining 16,500 JCSA customers.  Letters were sent to customers suggesting that they install a generator to run their grinder pump in the event of a power failure and at some point after their Isabel experience, the JCSA began a vendor maintenance program.

Vendor Contract Renewal – June 2011

Apparently the maintenance contract was due to expire, because on June 17, 2011 James City County issued a request for bids (11-4451) for Grinder Pump Maintenance.  On July 14, 2011 they held a Pre-Proposal conference that produced the following information:

  • A five year history of grinder pump contract  amounts and number of pumps covered:

2006 – $169,620 (771 pumps)

2007 – $190,940 (841 pumps)

2008 – $205,969 (877 pumps)

2009 – $209,068 (877 pumps)

2010 – $215,775 (885 pumps)

  • A total of 9 collection tanks have been replaced in the past 5 year (six in 2008 and three in 2009).  It is not stated how long these tanks had been in service, but the total cost was $55,330 (lowest cost was $5,000, highest was $10,630, average $6,147).
  • The number of grinder pumps replaced over the last five years:

2006 – 142

2007 – 111

2008 – 103

2009 – 108

2010 – 133

(It is not clear how long these pumps had been in service, but that’s 597 out of a total of 885 pumps that were replaced in five years!)

Hurricane Irene – August 2011

On August 27, 2011 the Williamsburg-Yorktown Daily printed this…

6:46 p.m.: The James City Service Authority (JCSA) is monitoring water and sewer service. Grinder pump customers should be aware that they will experience loss of sewer service during a power outage. The loss of sewer service will only affect 800 grinder pump customers. For more information, call 757-564-2140. (remember the advice to purchase a generator?)

New Vendor Contract – September 2011

On Sept. 28, 2011 James City County issued proposal 12-4762 “soliciting qualified contractors to assume grinder pump service and repair responsibilities for the associated workload of responding to approximately 900 grinder pumps…”.  The proposal specifies that:

“the successful Contractor will maintain the ability to respond promptly to grinder pump emergencies twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and within two (2) hours of recieving calls from a homeowner”.

Perhaps the most significant bid instruction from the JCSA was this:

“Contractor should not request assistance from JCSA when a significant number of homeowners experience extended power outages. When considering pump and haul operations during power outages, JCSA found it impossible to support the large number of grinder pumps. This is because a grinder pump needs to be emptied at least twice a day and typically a two-person crew can only empty two or three grinder pumps per hour. With the number of units on the maintenance agreement list, the JCSA will not have the necessary equipment or staff to support a pump and haul operation during a power outage. As such, the JCSA cannot perform pump and haul operations for the Contractor during extended power outages”.

Contract Awarded – October 2011

On October 25, 2011, with one firm responding, a contract was awarded for a first-year annual cost of $217,109.  For 900 pumps that’s $241 per year per pump.  The current annual charge to residents is $260, so it’s just about break-even for the JCSA.

Links to Source Material:

Maintenance Contract Award

Proposal 12-4762

Proposal 11-4451

Grinder Pump History

Williamsburg-Yorktown Daily – Irene

JCSA FYI – Isabel

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One Response to “James City County, Va.”

  1. sarasotan3sewers Says:

    A Resident Comments:

    This is one of the major problems with grinder pumps. Power outages do happen for a variety of reasons. Also, for the few people who would purchase a generator, gas is needed to operate generators. As we have seen recently in New Jersey it is a problem getting gas when there is a power outage.

    People do not like situations that are out of their control. I can’t begin to imagine the anxiety and helpless, fearful feeling that the N-3 area residents would feel if a storm approached our area. Preparing for a storm is difficult enough. Having the additional worry about the ability to use your bathrooms is unthinkable.

    We will have storms to worry about. This is Florida and climate change is real. We will have another year like 2005. And it is more likely than not that we will have power outages in the future. And there may be power outages unrelated to storms. What if FPL has a problem unrelated to a storm and there are rotating blackouts and N-3 residents cannot use their bathrooms?

    I really can’t imagine what it would be like to have bathroom functions depend on having electricity.

    This issue alone should make the county commissioners rethink grinder pumps. Can you imagine the outrage that would happen if the N-3 area did not have electricity for a couple of weeks.

    Great job locating the issue with James City County. It really helped me focus on the biggest issue with grinder pumps. Being able to use your bathroom should not be dependent on having electricity. Period.

    Walt Menzel
    Menzel & Associates, CPAs, PA

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