Deep sewer leak means temp. bypass, long repairs
Ocean Avenue was blocked for more than a week, including the long holiday weekend, and the Great Salt Pond remains closed to shellfishing as a precaution, because of a cracked sewer pipe that needs costly ongoing repairs. Town and sewer officials say that the leak has been handled as well as it could have been.
Sewer Superintendent Chris Blane explained that the issue was a leaking force main in Ocean Avenue Pump Station No. 1, which sits just beyond the Poor People’s Pub. The pump station is deep underground and old, installed in the 1970s. To solve this, personnel have performed a temporary bypass and will install new piping closer to the surface.
“We are dealing with aging infrastructure,” said Blane. He suggested this event could be a watershed moment for the town — that maybe it’s time to consider having a plan in the capital budget to improve the sewer infrastructure.
Sewer Commission Chair Peter McNerney said repair costs are difficult to estimate, but could be $75,000 or more. He said that some of this money is already in the budget, while the rest will be worked out with the Town Manager and finance department.
Blane said the amount of sewage that spilled from the leak could not be estimated, as there is no meter in that pump station. Blane explained that everything leaking was pumped out of the ground and put through the system. He said much of it appeared to be groundwater.
Sewer personnel found water bubbling up to the surface of Ocean Avenue, right by the pump station, on Monday, November 19. They excavated the site of the leak, and initially thought the work could be handled in-house, according to Blane.
But as they dug about 12 feet into the ground, it became increasingly clear that the resources needed to repair the leak were not on-island, said McNerney.
“We don’t know what caused,” the leak, said McNerney. “It could have been age, it could have been the tidal storm surge from Sandy.”
Outside experts and parts were called in, but not in time for them to come for the long holiday weekend — so no repair work was performed from Thanksgiving Day on Thursday, Nov. 22, to Sunday, Nov. 25. Odors from the leak could be smelled on Ocean Avenue.
Blane said the cracked pipe will no longer be used. In the meantime, there is a new pipe installed at the pump station linked to a new valve arrangement, allowing the system bypass to be possible. Sewer personnel will run the bypass until repairs are completed. Blane also noted that this new installation will now allow a bypass to be possible anytime it would be needed in the future.
Blane was hesitant to put a time frame for when repairs would be completed and the road would be repaired. The next step is to install new piping in the pump station.
“Block Island is isolated in an emergency situation. It takes a lot to get things here,” Blane explained.
Resources needed included a whole slew of experts and materials. Boyle and Fogarty Construction performed repairs, working alongside town sewer contractor A. Transue.
Engineers arrived on-scene Monday, November 19, and ordered piping and parts. Some parts, explained Blane and McNerney, were custom made and had to be shipped from out of state. And some companies that make the parts were closed for the holiday weekend, said McNerney.
Town Engineer Jim Geremia was instrumental to the process, said McNerney, and many others, including sewer and water personnel, chipped in.
“I don’t think anyone would do anything different than what we did,” said Blane.
The Great Salt Pond remained open for much of the holiday but was closed as a precaution on Sunday. Testing to be sent to the state Department of Environmental Management was performed on Thursday, November 29. Harbormaster Steve Land said he and assistant Kate McConville sampled 17 sites, including some spots he doesn’t normally check. In addition, they took samples of mussels, clams, and oysters to send directly to the DEM for testing. He noted this was the first time shellfish samples were sent to the DEM as well.
“Everybody very carefully monitored the Great Salt Pond,” said Town Manager Nancy Dodge. “It appeared there was no leakage into the pond.”
Blane said that groundwater that came to the surface was treated with sodium hypochlorite, and chlorinated hay bales were used to disinfect water as well. Bain Transue, of A. Transue, and Robbie Brown, of Brown Septic services, pumped up any additional groundwater and transferred it to the sewer treatment facility.
“It was not all sewage,” said Blane. “Groundwater was treated as though it was raw sewage.”
McNerney noted that the sewer plant has been in constant contact with the DEM.
“I still have to notify DEM of any situation,” that arises, Blane said. “I’m instructed to give updates daily, weekly, hourly. Steps to take and chemicals used have to be approved by the DEM.”