Poulsbo continues to cope with sewage spill

POULSBO — Almost a week after a sewer line broke and leaked raw sewage into Liberty Bay, city officials are confident the problem is fixed but the investigation into the cause continues.

Public Works Director Jeff Lincoln updated the city council Wednesday night about the ongoing investigation into the cause of the spill and addressed concerns about the potential for another incident.

“The total estimated discharge was 553,000 gallons and I think we’ve identified a number of solutions,” Lincoln told the council.

The leak occurred sometime between Sept. 9 and Sept. 29, based on the hours of operation for the pump stations at Lindvig Way and the Marine Science Center, he said.

“The initial analysis was a blockage upstream at either the Marine Science Center or Lindvig pump station and our technicians were looking in the wrong places,” Lincoln said.

While the city’s monitoring software compiled the data properly, analyzing it correctly was part of the problem, he added.

The software package has the required analytical capabilities but the city lacks the staff to take advantage of those options, Lincoln said.

“We have the correct software, but not the technical capability to establish operating parameters and conduct analysis,” he said.

The public works department has a year’s worth of data that needs to be put into the system, so those ranges can be established and the analysis can be done properly, Lincoln said.

“Basically, it would require somebody at a workstation half a day, every day,” he said, pointing out that the spill illustrates an area the city has already been addressing.

Since the spill, employees have been walking the 4,000-foot stretch of line running between the Marine Science Center and Lindvig Pump Station to visually inspect the line for potential problems, he said.

“If we ran a camera up in there, it would show a smooth pipe,” he said, noting that the pipe was probably scraped on the outside, which, due to corrosion, led to the leak that was discovered last week.

The pipe was installed in 1978 and has a life expectancy of about 50 years since it is in an area that remains constantly saturated due to tidal flows in the bay, Lincoln said.

Councilman Ed Stern expressed his appreciation for the city’s emphasis on using technology to improve its systems, but issued a cautionary word of warning.

“You can have all the technology you want, but if you don’t have the people to run it and analyze it, it won’t work,” Stern reminded the council.

If the council is serious about repairing the problem, then perhaps it needs to create the support for city crews to help protect the environment, Stern said.

Stern also read a statement from the Liberty Bay Foundation expressing its appreciation of the repair effort and concerns about that stretch of pipeline.

“The Liberty Bay Foundation would like to thank all the parties involved in the quick repair of the ruptured sewer pipe on Liberty Bay last week,” he read.

While appreciating the repair efforts, the foundation noted it has expressed concerns about that pipe since 2004.

“After the large amount of sewage was discovered in the same area this last March, we were disappointed that the city was satisfied that no source was identified and left it at that,” the statement read.

The foundation also urged that the pipeline be pressure tested and samples be taken on a regular basis at that time, which wasn’t done.

“What’s done is done… Let’s now look to the future and all work together using the power of modern technology and simple old fashioned open, honest and constructive communication to prevent this from happening again,” the statement concluded.

Lincoln responded to that criticism by stating that the March sewage spill was 150 yards north of last week’s leak and that the two incidents aren’t related.

“We went after it like there was no tomorrow and I can’t relate the two events,” Lincoln said. “It was dye-tested, which was under pressure.”

Instead of focusing on the technological aspect of the problem, Councilman Mike Regis asked Lincoln if the construction of the proposed Bond Road pump station and SR-305 force main would have given the city an outlet for sewage flowing into the broken line.

“If we had that right now and if Bond Road was there and the force main was there, we would have had redundancy,” Lincoln responded.

The Bond Road project is ready to go once property issues are resolved hopefully in the near future and it would be six to seven months before it is in place, Lincoln said.

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