‘The most frequently asked question here is where’s the bathroom’: Three UGA students help devise a plan to fix Fort Pulaski’s septic situation

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The Fort Pulaski National Monument welcomes over 350,000 visitors per year. With anywhere from 500 to 1,000 travelers coming on and off Cockspur Island each day, having only one operational bathroom for guests has caused a major problem.

“You know there was this tension after Hurricane Matthew because all of the bathrooms were down,” said Melissa Memory, superintendent of Fort Pulaski.

According to Memory, following the damages left by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the island’s septic systems were deemed unsalvageable. Causing all of the bathrooms on the Fort, as well as running water to be deemed unoperational.

One of the septic systems was fixed shortly after the storm, allowing the guest bathroom near the visitors center to once again be up and running. But at this point, due to rising sea levels among other factors, the island floods almost every time it rains. Raising concerns about potential long-term solutions.

“We couldn’t wait for 5 years so we went forward with replacing one of the septic tanks for the visitor center restrooms, but it was always one of those things that for the long-term we needed to figure out what we’re gonna do with this,” said Memory.

Luckily enough, three students from the University of Georgia’s School of Engineering conducted a semester-long project to try and find the best long-term solution to Fort Pulaski’s problem. The solution, piping into neighboring Tybee Island’s wastewater system, potentially the only permanent fix for Fort Pulaski.

“They evaluated several options, honed in on the best options and then created design drawings around that best option and really set the park on a path towards coming up with a long term solution towards this issue,” said Dr. Mark Risse, Director of UGA’s Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

Now, both Fort Pulaski and Tybee Island’s Waste Management Division are currently looking into the logistics of actually making this project come to life.

They’re currently in the early-planning stages of the project, but once the Fort can figure out funding for the project (which will come from their national service) it should take anywhere from 3-5 years to finish construction, depending on which route they choose to pipe the waste.

“All of our coastal stakeholders that are dependent on septic tanks on barrier islands are gonna be facing similar dilemmas down the road, so the results of this project have the potential to impact much greater than just the fort, and I might add sort of laid the groundwork for other barrier islands in similar situations,” added Risse.

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