Inspired by the Hilton Head community and honored to serve It

People

psdBy Pete Nardi, Hilton Head Public Service District general manager

There simply are not enough pages in Hilton Head Monthly to adequately describe the hard work, dedication, bravery and self-sacrifice of the Hilton Head Public Service District operations team — our group of utility first responders who work on the water and sewer systems. As general manager of the service district, I would like our community to know that it is the people of the Hilton Head Public Service District who provide vital tap water and remove and recycle wastewater.

Their hard work, expertise, wisdom and commitment enable very complex systems to run like clockwork, even after a Category 2 hurricane strikes. No piece of equipment, no plan and no amount of technology replaces the people who comprise your service district. Hurricane Matthew’s aftermath reminded us all of this, under very harsh terms. But it is my hope that we, as a community, will never forget it.

The district’s service area, which starts at Windmill Harbour and ends at the Hilton Head Resort area, comprises the majority of the island’s permanent population and includes Hilton Head Hospital and the public schools complex. Our service district provides water, sewer and recycled water to more than 18,000 customer accounts in the north- and mid-island areas and its systems proved to be remarkably resilient through the storm.

In emergencies such as Matthew, the service district functions as a first-responder organization under the unified command structure of the town’s Emergency Operations Center, through which we send out public advisories. We began what we term “Opcon 1” (Operational Condition 1 – Emergency Operations) at 9 a.m. Oct. 5. We returned to Opcon 5 (Normal Operations) at 5 p.m. Oct. 14. Those nine days were packed with extraordinary circumstances and incredible achievements in the face of very tough conditions.

Our building on Oak Park Drive is hurricane-hardened and served as the town’s emergency center until it was evacuated Oct. 7. We bunked in our building for several nights leading up to the storm. We then linked up with our sister utility, Broad Creek Public Service District of Shelter Cove and Palmetto Dunes, and evacuated together to the Beaufort County Southern Command Base Camp at University of South Carolina’s New River campus with other first responders on Oct. 7.

We returned on the morning of Oct. 8, just hours after Matthew passed our area, and began the recovery. Service district crews worked first to rebuild the pressure in our tap water distribution system, which had lost pressure due to power outages, and issued a boil water advisory as a precaution. Our tap water production facilities were up and running within 24 hours after the storm, and we restored normal water system pressure by the morning of Oct. 10. We never experienced any water quality problems during or after the hurricane, and we were able to lift the advisory by Oct. 13. Service district crews worked to repair approximately 20 broken water mains and completed that work by Oct. 14.

Our sewer system suffered power outages and tree damage to its sewer pump stations. We had to get the pumps turned back on and perform emergency pumping to draw down the flooded sewer system. We experienced some isolated sewer manhole overflows, which occurred as a result of sewer system use before power was restored everywhere, but there were no breaks to any of our sewer mains.

The service district sincerely thanks all of the residents who did their part by not using the sewer system until the OK was given and by limiting their use of water to help us rebuild vital water system pressure in the days following the storm. You played a major role in expediting our recovery.

Progress in restoring water and sewer service was extremely rapid and many termed it “amazing.” The most important thing to remember is that it is the people of the service district who restored these life-sustaining services for our island. We were aided by our contractors, other water utilities from our state, and by the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority on the mainland. The people who fixed the pipes, turned the water back on and took the sewage away are the same people who care for our utility and our island 24 hours a day, seven days a week, under sunny skies and when the weather is rough.

We would like to kindly remind everyone that the public advisories that are issued after storms are always important and useful to heed. We would also like the community to know that it has been our great honor to perform this recovery work, just as it is our privilege to serve you under all circumstances. Your perseverance, patience, assistance and pride inspire us. Thank you.