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Public works director addresses sewage spill

POULSBO — Four days after the most recent sewage spill into Liberty Bay, Public Works Director Jeff Lincoln briefed the city council’s public works committee on the incident and its aftermath.

Less than 1,000 gallons of sewage spilled into the bay Saturday after a major power outage affected many areas of Poulsbo, including the Marine Science Center, public works building and city hall, Lincoln told the committee.

The on-call employee went immediately to the Marine Science Center pump station after police and fire units arrived at the site of the downed power line on Jensen Way near Bank of America and manually started the generator and pumps to put the station in operation, he said. A short time later, the public works department was notified that the manhole between the MSC and Bayside Broiler was overflowing, which resulted in the staff returning to the pump station and restarting the pumps.

“All the controls and the generator performed as set: there was a human error in the switch settings that resulted in the pumps ‘running dry’ and losing their prime,” Lincoln said, noting that at the same time employees noticed the telemetry system wasn’t functioning properly.

If that system had been working, it should have triggered a call both at the time of power failure and at the overflow condition, he said.

When staff reviewed the situation Monday, it was discovered that the backup battery had shorted.

“The telemetry at the MSC is old and not state of the art,” Lincoln told the committee. “The state of the art controls include programmable logic controllers which automatically control the pumps and generators when a power failure occurs.”

Only two mechanical stations, the Lindvig Lift Station and West Side Well, have this technology, he said.

“This situation points out the need for the telemetry upgrades I have recommended as well as the need to have our public works facility upgraded so that critical communications and controls are on uninterruptible power supply circuits that are generator-backed up that will not be affected under any conditions by power failures,” he said.

Lincoln said for that reason, he will be requesting a budget increase in water and sewer items to bring all of the city’s installations on to the new telemetry unit, which provides a greater capacity to analyze the systems and report problems.

“The situation would not have occurred if either proper procedures had been followed or the telemetry had functioned properly,” he said.

The department is taking immediate steps to improve training. It is also reviewing emergency procedures and changing inspection and reporting requirements to ensure the telemetry system is functioning properly and will not fail during a power outage, Lincoln said.

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