After a lot of rumors about his stepping down, and his health, we had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Elvin McCorvey about his intent of continuing on the Board and what exactly ECUA does in the community.
One of the things we were discussing was the sewage system downtown has been moved. Where is it now?
McCorvey: It is approximately 1.5 miles north of the Chemstrand plant. Right off of Chemstrand Road. It is not located near a residence. It’s located on the banks of the Escambia River. We do not discharge any liquids into the river. Most of our water, we reuse. International Paper Company, Gulf power use a lot of our recycled water. That (water) that is not being recycled, we have a large spray field and it is discharged into the spray field where it percolates into the water aquifer.
When that water percolates into the system are there any contaminates in that?
McCorvey: When it percolates into the aquifer, Gulf Power and other places that water is called AWA water meaning that it is drinkable. They are using that water in California now as drinking water. We meet that standard. We are not discharging any water into the surface water.
There was an incident where it was revealed that the Library downtown was pumping raw sewage into the Pensacola Bay. It was happening. But it wasn’t ECUA’s fault because the City never connected the library to the system. But it wasn’t done and they had a line that ran out to the bay. But that has since been corrected. That was not an ECUA fault, because that was done before ECUA was created.
In your nineteen years that you have been in this office, what is the best thing you remember about being in this office?
McCorvey: The ability to create an atmosphere at ECUA where minorities were promoted to supervisory positions. That was one of my key elements I wanted to achieve while I was there. We have done that.
On the flip side, in the nineteen years that you have been there, what is the worst thing that you can say about being in that seat?
The worst thing is that was a climate where African Americans did not get a chance to move up. We have an environment now where we reimburse our employees for going back to school. ECUA is not a job that you can just sit down and do nothing. You must constantly improve your skills . And if you don’t, you may be out the door. Because we have to have skilled personnel to do the things we do at ECUA. I do not think people understand the complexity of what we do at ECUA. We have one of the best and one of the most sophisticated laboratories in the state of Florida.
What do you do in your laboratories?
We test our water constantly to make sure it is a clear, class A product and that there are no contaminates in the water. That is important. Our waste water treatment that is discharged from htat has to meet a national standard. So our lab tests to make sure those standards are met.
About 2-3 years ago, there was a list that came out stating that Pensacola was one of the places that had the worst water.
That was put out by a firm out of Washington, D.C. We found out later, that that firm had connections with a water filter company and they did that to entice people to go out and buy these water filters. That was a AWA report and there was no truth to it. Now one of the things that they did look at. Because our water is one of the most tested in the United States, we do show a lot of elements in the water that other water companies don’t have. They have but don’t show up in their testing. We do it because we want to make sure there is no excuse for contaminates show up in our water system.
When you say elements, you test for other chemicals?
Yes. The Federal government has a list of chemicals that you cannot have in your water. And if they are there, it has to be at a certain level. We make sure that we are not surpassing those standards.
So is it fair to say that we have those chemicals in our water, but they are not at any harmful level?
They are not at any harmful level.
If anybody has water period, they are going to have some of those chemicals in their water?
Some of things are naturally occurred. Rocks give off radium and that’s natural. It does not come from man (contamination) It’s natural.
By us being in a sites-Browns Field, etc.- Our water table is very high, what is ECUA and you in your positions, are doing to combat the contaminates that are getting into the water table?
Any place where we have a well, where the contaminates are slipping into the ground water, we put in a carbon granulated system, which is a very expensive system, on that well and all of our wells are monitored. We have a SCADA system which monitors every well. If a contaminate is introduced into our well that shouldn’t be there, an alarm goes off and that operator shuts that well down. Then other water is diverted from other wells to service that area. So there is very little chance of anyone introducing contaminates to our water system to cause harm to people.
That brings back the talk about terrorism. People were concerned about that they would actually be able to contaminate our water.
What people didn’t know what that the Federal government sent out an alarm many years ago warning local water companies that we needed to harden our water wells. When we say ‘harden’ it means to make sure it is almost impossible for anyone to get in to put anything in our water wells.
So if anything DID enter into the well that is where the well sounds the alarm?
And that well would be immediately shut down and we will divert a water well to that area.
Does ECUA ever give tours?
We give tours to the public. We give tours to people from around the world to see our Waste Water Plant. We cover a large area. Not only in the Waste water treatment plant out there, we have a composted area out there. At one time the county permitted us to dump our lawn waste at the Wedgewood site until the contamination issue came about. I convinced our Executive Director and Sanitation Director to look at other options. There is so much land out there. Why not haul all of our land debris out there? We hauled it out there and now we have a major composting system.
So what do you do with the compost? Right now we are selling it commercially but we are hoping to make it available to the homeowner. We are hoping at some point to be able to make it available for purchase at Home Depot and Lowes in sacks where they can go and buy it.
For years the Escambia County government would not work with ECUA. They only wanted to shut us down. We’ve gotten beyond that now. With the new County Commissioners we have now, we have entered into some agreements. One of the agreements is recycling. It’s a big thing in this area. We decided that we needed to find a way to do our own recycling. We entered into an agreement with the County Commissioners. They are going to allow us to build an IMERTH where we will not only be able to take our recyclables from Escambia County, but regional counties too; paper, plastic, metals etc. It is also a help to the county. The County is under a state mandate DEP to reduce the amount of items going into the land fill. Eventually they are going to have to close that land fill out.
Where exactly is that land fill? Perdido, located off of 9 miles going towards Beulah. You see, the garbage is deteriorating in the ground. When it deteriorates it produces a gas that is used by the county. They sold some of it to Gulf Power to make electricity.
It’s apparent you know a lot about how things work there. Well, I have been on there for nineteen years and I haven’t just been sitting on a seat. I’ve been keeping abreast of what’s been going on for the best for our community. For example; we have saved our customer base millions of dollars. And how do we do that? We went from the diesel operating trash and gas trucks to compressed natural gas trucks. And by going to compressed natural gas, we saved over a million dollars a year on fuel cost. That means we didn’t have to raise the rates to cover the cost. At one time, we used to charge our customers a fuel assessment fee. We no longer do that. We deleted that from the bill. We are always on the cutting edge. Although we paid a lot of money for the trucks, in the long run we will save a lot of money. We also service parts of Santa Rosa County. In the grand scale of things we spreading the costs out.
We were discussing how people were using the system to pour grease down the drain. What effect does that have on the system? It has a very negative effect. When grease is poured down the system we get what called SSO’s and what that does is block the sewage line to your property or your neighbors if it gets down in the sewer main. It can cause you and your neighbors’ sewage to back up in your house. We have what is called a FOG program (Fats, Oil and Grease) and we provide a gallon or 2 gallon containers that you can pour your used grease into an take it to a designated place; leave it and pick up an empty container to prevent grease being poured down the sink. WE have a team of people that’s willing to come out to home owner association and explain this program. There is no charge for these containers. If people would only see what ECUA has done to protect us from the contaminates in our water supply.
I understand that you have had health problems. Has your problems in any way created a hindrance for you in doing your job? Absolutely not. About one year ago, I had a quadruple by-pass surgery. For a couple of months I was not totally incapacitated. It did not affect my job performance at ECUA because I was able to talk to various department heads to make sure the things I needed done were taken care of.
Why should we reelect you to this office? I remember something that our former commissioner Willie Junior used to say when he ran for reelection and it rings home to me; may the work I’ve done speak for me.
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