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Putrid problem: Dearing restaurant has sewer quandry

There's only one way owner Derrick Smith could describe his current plumbing problems and the probable result at the Dearing Cafe.

"It's a bunch of (excrement)," Mr. Smith said. "But (Mayor Sean Kelley) has been working on it pretty good for me, and the health department has been working on it, too."

When Mr. Smith took over the restaurant in April and applied for a food service permit, he learned that his restaurant was not hooked up to the town's sewerage system when the rest of the town was, and that fact could close his business. McDuffie County Health Inspector Tim Mosley said he cannot issue a food service permit until the restaurant is hooked onto the city sewerage system. He is allowing the cafe to stay open while the problem is being resolved, and said people should not feel inhibited to eat there.

"I go in there quite a bit checking on this issue. There's not a case where there has been sewage backing up into the establishment. That has never happened," Mr. Mosley said. "It's just not functioning properly and sewer is available, so they need to tie onto it."

Mr. Mosley said he learned of the issue when he received complaints of a septic pump truck backed up to the building when Pam Benson owned the cafe. The inspector said Ms. Benson was already operating under a permit, so there was nothing he could do about it. Now that the new owner needs a permit, Mr. Mosley said the rule is being enforced.

"When they ran the sewer through Dearing, it was my understanding that everything was going to be hooked on, and you think it would be safe to assume that Dearing Cafe was hooked on," Mr. Mosley said. "And we did not know that it was not hooked on until I got that complaint."

The sewerage system was run through the town approximately eight years ago when Ralph Menees was mayor, and the cafe owner, Ms. Benson, leased the property from Joe Reeves. Ms. Benson said she remembers Mayor Menees bringing "several people to the business to look it over." Because the septic tank was under the concrete in the garage bay area of the building, the concrete floor would have to be cut out, the septic tank emptied and filled with dirt and a new concrete floor installed.

"We did not have the money to do it, and because the septic tank was still working, then it wasn't a problem back then," she said. "As long as it was functioning, it was never a problem."

Former Mayor Menees said he remembers the cafe owners being given an exemption from sewer hook-up by the health inspector because of their situation. And it seemed to be the perfect solution until a few months ago. Mr. Reeves' widow, Faye, now owns the property, and will be responsible for having the sewer lines connected and the old septic tank filled.

"It's really upset me because it's an expense I have not even expected. ... If anybody has any suggestions, I'm certainly open to it," Ms. Reeves said.

And the expense could be great, according to Mayor Kelley. The Mayor said a plumber has been assessing the property, figuring an estimate and has "hinted around the 10 grand area," but that figure is still in the working stages.

And all hope has not gone down the tubes. The mayor said he is checking into alternate possibilities for Ms. Reeves and Mr. Smith. One option may be to apply for a variance allowing a new septic tank to be put in. But Mr. Mosley said there is no room for a new septic tank. He said the public sewer system is only 200 feet away, so it is the only feasible option.

"I just hate to see somebody lose a business because of something that wasn't their fault. That's the only place we have to eat around here," Mayor Kelley said during the July town council meeting.

Web posted on Thursday, July 19, 2007

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