UPDATED with VIDEO: Jail repairs progressing, contractors expect four more days or work

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Sep 23, 2016 at 7:34 PM

ERWIN — Work is progressing to replace the crumbling sewer line that cleared out the Unicoi County Jail earlier this week.

Contractors project the repairs could take another four days to complete.

Mick Pappalas, the Allied Pipe foreman in charge of the jail work site on Thursday, said all the needed materials have been purchased and work to replace the pipes got underway Wednesday.

By Thursday afternoon, the decades-old sewer line had been removed, but work to replace it had been temporarily delayed by the removal of the wire and concrete lathe ceiling in the basement of the jail.

A crew from E. Luke Green construction company was using a diamond-bit drill to cut through the concrete, and expected to complete the demolition on Thursday. Once the ceiling is down, Pappalas said Allied workers will spend about two days replacing the sewer line and another two days repairing numerous leaks in the jail’s water lines.

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said the sewer backup was first discovered Friday and resulted in the evacuation of the jail’s 63 inmates Monday night and early Tuesday morning

According to the sheriff, the main sewer line beneath the jail had become clogged in several places and, because of its age, crumbled as the workers attempted to clear it. Hensley estimated the pipes were more than 40 years old and had been in place since the jail was built in the 1970s.

VIDEO: Work underway Thursday at the jail:


Forty-eight inmates were transferred to Carter County detention facilities and 15 were taken to a state correctional facility in Bledsoe County.

Hensley said 16 of the inmates transferred to Carter County were state inmates who will be returned to the Unicoi County as soon as the repairs are complete, restoring the housing revenues the county receives for all state inmates held in the jail.

The 15 state inmates taken to the state prison in Bledsoe County will not be returned and could take a couple of months to replace, Hensley said.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.