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Sewage hits Liberty Bay

POULSBO — Almost exactly two years after the last major sewage spill into Liberty Bay, history repeated itself Thursday as city crews sprang into action to repair a broken pipe near the head of the bay.

On Sept. 18, 2003, more than 350,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into the south end of Liberty Bay, resulting in a weeklong closure.

Sept. 29, a crew chief reported a leak at 9:30 a.m. because he saw something on the beach that didn’t look right, said Public Works Director Jeff Lincoln.

“He had been debugging the system and immediately turned off the pumps and went into emergency mode,” Lincoln said.

That prompt response resulted in an extremely well-coordinated effort between the city, Kitsap County and Sprint as the leak was repaired without further delay, he said, noting that the county provided the track hoe and Sprint supplied timbers to keep the heavy equipment from getting mired in the mud.

“It is a serious leak, but I don’t know how serious because I don’t know how long it was there,” Lincoln said.

The outflow was probably caused by an electro-chemical reaction inside the pipe, he surmised. City staff is going through its data on the different pump stations to see if there were any noticeable fluctuations that would indicate a problem.

While the construction of the proposed Bond Road lift station would not have prevented the spill, if it had been operational, the severity could have been lessened, he said, remarking that the city is working to create redundancy in its sewage system so it can reroute waste instead of stopping the flow entirely.

“We’re looking to build redundancy where we can, but there are some areas we just can’t,” Lincoln said.

Because of the spill, the Kitsap County Health District has closed Liberty Bay for at least seven days, said water quality program manager Stuart Whitford.

“We have a lot of unknowns, but we do know the city has fixed the problem,” Whitford said.

The city replaced a section of pipe along the shore near Liberty Bay Auto and that the pump station is back online. The health district doesn’t have an estimate of the volume of the spill and is waiting for the city to provide more information, he said.

“We have issued an advisory for all of Liberty Bay and we’ll sample again in a week’s time and make our decision based on water quality,” Whitford said.

In an April 1, 2005 e-mail to Whitford, Luis Barrantes from the Liberty Bay Foundation voiced concerns about that section of pipe after a dye test was conducted to the Lindvig Pump Station. 

“I’ve always had concerns about that pipe after the land moved years ago,” Barrantes wrote.

Barrantes asked what kind of dye was used and what its permanence was in the pipeline.

“The reason I ask is that if the sewage is seeping up it could take a while to surface and I wonder if the dye would still be visible after so long,” he continued, noting the foundation used to sample an outfall at Bayview Auto that regularly had high fecal coliform counts.

Whitford responded in an April 4, 2005 e-mail, stating that no dye had been observed in the area and that the dye was introduced into the system two weeks before. 

“As mentioned we’re in a holding pattern right now while the city continues to investigate the source of this contamination,” Whitford wrote. “We’ve offered our help and will do so when asked.”

Since the Suquamish Tribe isn’t currently doing any harvesting in the bay, its operations won’t be affected, said tribal fisheries director Rob Purser.

“We know there’s been a spill and we’re taking a wait-and-see approach,” Purser said, noting that initial reports indicate it could be greater than the 2003 spill.

Even though the tribe recently seeded oysters in the bay, Purser said it shouldn’t be affected too much by the spill.

“Olympia oysters are pretty hardy and they can survive in some pretty harsh water conditions,” he said.

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