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Over four decades at water treatment plant made a ‘˜good career’ for James King

By Walter Geiger James King went to work at Barnesville’s wastewater treatment plant in 1966. He didn’t know if he would be there very long but ended up spending 42 and a half years cleaning city sewage out of water before it flows downstream to Lake Tobesofkee and points south. ’Ralph Barron hired me and trained me. After two years, they told me I was eligible to sign up for the city retirement plan but I felt like I probably wouldn’t be here that long,’ King recalled last week in a room next to the lab at the upgraded facility that will be dedicated in his name Wednesday. King started at the old plant with a little lab, a pump house below, one digester and one clarifier. The plant was expanded in 1972 and the activated sludge process was adopted. In 1983, King opted to go with a trickling filter process but, with the recent overhaul, the plant is back to the activated sludge model. That sounds like a lot of changes but the even bigger changes came in government regulation. ’In 1966, we had no regulations. Then in 1972 the Clean Water Act was passed. It helped the industry. You couldn’t just take in a guy off the street to run the plant. We all had to be trained and certified,’ King said. King did just that, running the plant for decades with just one helper. The city had his back, however. ‘Whenever there was a problem, all I had to do was call and I got all the help I needed,’ he said. With all the advances in technology, bacteria still do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to cleaning up water filled with feces, urine and everything else that gets flushed. ‘It works just like the septic tank you have out in the country. Bacteria take out the solids and then you use disinfectants on the water. Those disinfectants included chlorine then bleach. In the new plant, ultraviolet light is used in the final step before the water is returned to a branch of Tobesofkee Creek. Brandon Lewis runs the plant now. He has a staff of four and vast technology King could only have dreamed off when he started out. ’This is a top of the ladder plant. It has lots of room for expansion. It will last the city a long, long time,’ King said. The ultraviolet light treatment is one of those technological advances. ’There are racks of bulbs like what you would see in a tanning bed. The water passes through and the light changes in intensity based on the amount of solids in the water. It kills and inactivates bacteria. The water we discharge is cleaner than the water upstream from the plant,’ Lewis said. The two main issues are lead and copper that get into the wastewater from deteriorating pipes. Barnesville does not have much of a lead problem but does deal with copper. The copper limits for water leaving the plant are 433 times less stringent than those for drinking water, Lewis said. The biggest problem King faced in his long career was, not surprisingly, the great flood of 1994. ’The whole bottom out here was flooded. All our lift stations were under water. It was a mess,’ King said. Everybody had the same problem and a lot of raw sewage went into waterways in the affected areas. ‘That’s why they told you to stay out of the water for a while,’ King said with a smile. Even rain like we have had lately causes issues at the plant. There are cracked pipes, open manholes and all sorts of ways for rain water to get into the sanitary sewer system. ‘It puts a lot of pressure on the plant but, as fast as it goes up, it comes back down. I told my wife now that I am retired, I can sit on the porch and watch the rain and not worry about this plant,’ King noted. He and Traska have been married for 52 years. They have one son, William, who lives in Molena and works in wastewater in Mc-Donough. James has also served as pastor of United Pentecostal Church in Thomaston for 12 years, having attended the church since 1976. ’A lot of times, prayer has pulled us through out here at this plant. It has been a good job. I’ve never been laid off and I never missed a paycheck. I still keep my certification and licenses current just in case they need me. I’ve had a good career,’ King concluded.

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