Emergency meeting called to address sewer failure

BUCKHANNON – At an emergency meeting Thursday, Buckhannon City Council members unanimously voted to loan the city’s Sanitary Board up to $100,000 – money that will be used to fix a major failure in the municipal sewer system.

At the meeting, which was scheduled Wednesday afternoon by Mayor Kenny Davidson, city engineer Sam Ludlow told council members that a “pretty major element” of the city’s collection system – a gravity sewer interceptor known as the West Side interceptor that originates in the Tennerton area – has collapsed and is no longer operational.

Ludlow said the sewer department first learned of the problem when West Virginia Wesleyan College advised a city employee of a sinkhole, located near the college’s tennis courts at the beginning of October. The department has since been struggling to fix the 16-inch pipe for over a month, and Ludlow said he’s ultimately determined the most cost-efficient and effective means of remedying the issue is to relocate and install a force main and establish a new sanitary sewer pump station.

“We made an evaluation of our circumstances and we certainly could have renewed our efforts to do a repair, but we spent October at the tennis courts – we’re all pretty good players – and there are other matters that need attending to throughout the city,” Ludlow said. “If we brought in somebody to attempt the repair, we expected that it would be well over $100,000, so we started looking for options.”

Ludlow said he’s proposing a solution that involves installing a new pump station at the intersection of Wood and Brooke streets, which would pump sewage past the college football field and tennis courts, where a force main would discharge.

“This would include about 2,200 feet of force main and the pump station and a very short section of gravity sewer,” Ludlow said.

“We certainly considered this to be an emergency,” he added. “We have a major sewer that has failed and even though we have been able to maintain the operation of the sewer system without any significant issue in terms of spills or loss of service to customers, we’re pretty vulnerable.”

Since the collapse of the sewer line, the sewer department has set up a temporary system adjacent to the college’s football field in a 20-foot-deep manhole, Ludlow said.

“We have a pump in the bottom of that manhole, we have an emergency generator and we have a temporary force main running on top of the group vulnerable to the weather, and that is how we are maintaining service,” he explained. “We’ve had no significant spills, and we’ve been in touch with DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection) and DEP’s been on site and there are no issues in that regard.”

Ludlow said that should the temporary system fail, the consequences would be “pretty severe.” The collapsed sewer line serves 169 residential customers as well as three-quarters of the Wesleyan College campus.

Davidson said city officials met Tuesday with the state’s Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council, which has agreed to grant $100,000 in emergency appropriation funds to the city for the purpose of completing the sewer repairs and upgrade. The IJDC is requiring that when the city submits its grant application – due in Charleston today – it include “evidence” that the city’s Sanitary Board has sufficient, matching funds to pay for the project, which is estimated to cost $200,000.

“The essence of it is that we, the city council, are going to commit to loan to the Sanitary Board not to exceed $100,000 at 0 percent interest for five years with annual payments of $20,000,” Davidson said said. “That application has to be in Charleston tomorrow, which is why we are here today.

“We don’t have a choice,” the mayor added. “We have to do this. We cannot ignore this sewer; that is not an option. The only option we have is to repair it.”

Davidson said the sewer department has already begun to work on the project.

“The repairs are underway,” he said. “We have ordered the materials.”

Wesleyan Vice President for Finance Barry Pritts, who also attended Thursday’s meeting, noted that although damage to the college’s tennis courts was “fairly substantial,” the college isn’t seeking compensation from the city.

“It’s one of those things we’re not holding anybody responsible,” Pritts said. “We are probably going to relocate them (the tennis courts), but we don’t know where. We’re still talking about that.”

Contact Katie Kuba by email at kkuba@theintermountain.com. Follow her on Twitter at IMT_Kuba.