Work still underway on damaged sewer pipe

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City Council and onlookers applaud sewer workers who “minimized a major situation.” (L-R) Rick Spruell, Roger Hernandez, Louis Rubio, Jeffery Hernandez, Frank Rojo, Oscar Tejeda, PW Director Robert Greenlaw, and Jamie Hmielak. Courtesy photo

In his first major report since a broken sewer pipe spewed tons of sewage onto the island near the Pebbly Beach lift station, Public Works Director Bob Greenlaw told the city council it could have been much worse.

“Some people hate to clean their toilets,” said Greenlaw, saying city crews worked in raw sewage up to their elbows to “minimize a major situation” for the city of Avalon.

The mayor, council and staff, along with the audience, repeatedly applauded Greenlaw, the workers and contractors introduced at the meeting.

Greenlaw said the system pumps about 400,000 gallons of raw sewage per day through the lift station that was damaged. City crews worked “in some very extreme conditions day and night” to keep a lid on the emergency.

The island virtually came to a stop two weeks ago when Greenlaw ordered a halt to all fresh and salt water operations so that the tremendous flow could be stopped long enough to patch the broken main. “It was quite an effort to keep it maintained,” said Greenlaw.

“Days after that, we were still working into the night under tiring conditions to get it where it is now,” said Greenlaw.

Even now, said Greenlaw, while the system seems normal, it is working on an “automatic bypass” of the wounded area. Workers are, in a sense, working day and night to complete the repairs to the original force main, though they are comfortable the system is stable. “We’re in good shape there,” he told the Council.

In addition to the automatic bypass, the city now has pumping redundancy in the event of another emergency, said Greenlaw.

At least seven local businesses were damaged in the emergency, including two (a restaurant and a boating facility received moderate damage), he said.

He said the city, the insurance company and the Island Company have done a “complete walk through” to access the damage. Under questioning by the council, Greenlaw said the Public Works department will use sophisticated technology to do a forensic inspection of the existing force mains to ensure they can sustain pressurized integrity.

Many of these forced mains and pump lift stations are buried as deep as 20 feet below the surface, so getting to them and inspecting them will take some effort.

The section of the system that gave way and created the emergency was scheduled to be replaced soon. He said the goal is to keep salt water out of the system because of the corrosive threat it poses to the pipe.

Greenlaw told the council that it was still a bit early to calculate the overall cost of the sewage emergency. He did say, however, that most of the emergency was dealt with by city employees and contractors working overtime, although there were costs for specialized equipment and parts.

Bids for a long-term fix for parts of the failed system are not in yet, he added, but he promised to get an estimate to the city as soon as reasonably available.

“It was quite an effort to keep it maintained,” said Greenlaw, adding much credit belonged to those who worked to save the day and achieve a “win” for Avalon.

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