More than 1 million gallons of raw sewage spilled from a wastewater pumping station off U.S. Highway 1 at Midland Road in Southern Pines on Sunday and early Monday, said Dennis Brobst, Moore County's public works director.
Goldsboro-based T.A. Loving Co. has been expanding the pump station and using three temporary pumps while it replaces an old pump with a larger one.
A fuel truck arrived at the pump station over the weekend to supply the temporary pumps with diesel, but found the gate locked, Brobst said. When the pumps ran out of fuel early Sunday, the sewage spilled out until workers discovered the problem Monday morning.
"The county's position is the contractor is responsible. Our specs are very tight, very clear that it's his responsibility to operate the temporary pumps," Brobst said.
Jerry Smith, vice president of T.A. Loving, said a distress call went out to an employee when the pumps stopped working. The company was investigating why the call went unanswered, he said, declining to comment further.
The untreated sewage flowed into McDeeds Creek, a tributary to the Little River and Crystal Lake, a popular fishing spot north of Southern Pines. All visible debris from the spill had been cleaned up by Thursday.
High levels of fecal coliform bacteria have been found in the waterway, but not in Crystal Lake, said Belinda Henson, regional supervisor for the state Division of Water Quality.
Moore County officials said the spill wouldn't affect anyone's drinking water. Henson said no fish kills have been reported, but her staff plans to continue monitoring McDeeds Creek.
Officials said they expect the sewage to become diluted as it moves downstream, which would lower bacteria concentration levels.
It was unclear Wednesday whether the county would be fined because of the spill. Brobst said T.A. Loving would have to reimburse the county for any state fine.
“If the state feels it necessary to fine us for this, we have every intention of passing that fine on to the contractor,” he said.
The spill didn’t bother James Harris of Raeford, who caught two bass in Crystal Lake on Wednesday.
“When it’s happened, there ain’t nothing you can do. I mean, it’s happened, but I hope it doesn’t mess (the lake) up,” Harris said.