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Flushing Out Mayo’s Island

As city officials and the owners of the island — the family of Dr. Fred T. Shaia — work to make the property more attractive to potential developers, the sewer system has become a sticking point. Connecting Mayo to the city sewer system could cost some $750,000 or more, one city official says.

The issue, however, raises another, more troubling question: Where does the sewage on the island go, and where was it going when Overnite Transportation, Reynolds Metals and others operated businesses on the island years ago?

“I don’t know,” says Claude Cooper, commissioner of buildings for the city.

“Those files have been purged,” adds Kenneth W. Smith, program manager of environmental health in Richmond.

Says Gary DuVal, technical services administrator for public utilities: “I don’t have sewers on the island. I know there are bathrooms there. I just assumed that there are septic tanks there.” The city has no records of such.

Only one record shows a sewer of any kind, and it’s located in an ancient utilities text, Inspector’s Book No. 6, which was last updated on Nov. 6, 1941. The records show a private sewage drain that runs alongside the 14th Street bridge — and dumps into the river.

Curiously, though, that old sewer system doesn’t appear on current maps. DuVal doesn’t know why. “The city drew the map,” he says.

Alton Belsches Jr., manager of the Wise Recycling shop on the island, says Reynolds Metals put in a septic tank years ago where his property sits, “but I don’t know if it’s connected.” He has only one bathroom on his property, he adds. Across the street, Choice Entertainment, a booking agency that manages entertainment on the island, uses two bathrooms on the second floor of the former Overnite building. And there’s a bookbindery operation downstairs. The owner of that business couldn’t be reached by press time.

David Crawford, a real-estate broker at CB Richard Ellis, which lists the property for commercial development (specifically, it offers 90,000 square feet of undeveloped office space), says the city is working with the owner on the sewage problem.

A couple of years ago, he says, the city attempted to figure out where the sewage went by putting a tracking material into the toilet — to no avail. “The city did try and trace it and couldn’t find where it went,” Crawford says.

Perhaps page 63 of Inspector’s Book No. 6 offers a clue.

“It shows sewers in 1941 that went into the river,” says DuVal, explaining that the city didn’t build the wastewater treatment plant until 1958. “Please remember, all sewers went to the river in 1941.” — Scott Bass

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