Stefan Hard / Staff Photo Dave Moody, of Kingsbury Companies, operates heavy equipment Monday at the site of emergency work along River Street in Montpelier to repair underground lines feeding into a pump station.
MONTPELIER — State and city officials are trying to figure out who might have stuffed rags into the city’s sewer system, causing an overflow of an estimated 360,000 gallons of sewage into the Winooski River at the Taylor Street Bridge over the weekend of March 9-10.
“We err on the conservative side,” said Todd Law, head of the city Public Works Department. “But it was a significant discharge in my estimation.”
The problem, which was noticed by a passer-by on March 10, a Sunday, was not reported to city offices until the next day. While public works employees responded immediately, Law said, and were able to remedy the problem within an hour and a half, residents are going to get a reminder in their next water bill about what can and cannot be flushed. The city wastewater treatment facility processes between 1 million and 2 million gallons of sewage daily.
“Toilet paper is not an issue,” he said. “But a lot of these industrial type cleaning rags, or diapers, are terrible for the system.”
Ernie Kelley, wastewater program manager for the state Agency of Natural Resources, said his office was still looking at the incident to determine culpability.
“We evaluate each incident,” he said. “Was it an operational fault? Was it something that was an act of nature? Was it illegal? In this case it appears to be illegal, and it isn’t something anyone could have foreseen, and the city acted swiftly to abate the overflow.”
Kelley added that because of the amount of rags found in the pipe, someone might have removed a manhole cover to get rid of the rags or stuffed them into a storm drain.
“We’re investigating, and the city is investigating,” he said. “This was a fairly significant amount of rags.”
Law is asking residents to act immediately if they sniff out a public works problem on a weekend. “They should call the police if they notice something like this, and we can get on it right away,” he said.
In the meantime, emergency work has begun on a section of the River Street sewage pipeline that failed March 26 when a sinkhole opened up along the first section of the pipe from the pump station and there was a thousand-gallon overflow of the sanitary sewer line to the Winooski River.
Quick-thinking city workers were able to fix the problem, albeit temporarily, Law said. “We plugged one of the catch basins with an inflatable plug, and that saved the day. I have to give Frank Ellis and the crew of the Water and Sewer Department credit for some quick thinking.”
The area had already been targeted as part of a larger sewer line project.
In March, city voters approved a bond for $670,000 for sewer line repair in and around River Street. However, after the sewage failure March 26 the city put that part of the project immediately out to bid with five contractors. Three bids were returned, and City Manager William Fraser signed a $59,893 contract Thursday with Kingsbury Companies, of Waitsfield, to do the work.
Law said concrete sewer pipes that were typically used during installations in the 1970s and early 1980s are degrading faster than expected because of the interaction of the sewer gases with the concrete. The city will be using PVC pipe in the replacement project.
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