By MELINDA WILLIAMS
The Environmental Protection Agency caused more than $22,000 in damage to the Dublin sewer main when it’s contractor drilled through a sewer pipe while installing monitoring wells at Electroplate-Rite.
Town Manager Bill Parker told Dublin Town Council Thursday night that the EPA has denied the town’s request to reimburse at least $22,000 the town paid H.T. Bolling to repair the damage.
Parker said he hadn’t brought the situation to light until Thursday “due to the fact I was negotiating, or attempting to negotiate, the best you can with the federal government – with people like the EPA” for reimbursement of the town’s costs.
Before detailing the situation with council, Parker said, “I’ll tell you a little story because I lived this first-hand, up close and personal, with all the stress involved, as did the mayor (Benny Skeens).”
Parker said he received a report from Electroplate-Rite president and owner Keith Dickerson Tuesday, Nov. 13, that the well-drilling company was drilling the last well when they smelled sewer coming out of the drill site. He said town crews dug around the well casing pipe that day as deep as a backhoe could dig (about eight feet) and “it was dry as a bone, with no leaking whatsoever.”
Since there had been rumors of an old septic tank in that area, the exploration was stopped for that day.
However, concerns were renewed the next morning when Pepper’s Ferry Regional Wastewater Treatment Authority Executive Director Clarke Wallcraft called Parker to say the sewer flow had “decreased very substantially” in that main.
Wallcraft brought some locating equipment from Pepper’s Ferry and worked with Parker all day to try to find the sewer line to “see if, indeed, they had drilled through it.” Parker said they thought it would be easy to find a leak because the main runs about 225,000 to 275,000 gallons per day and “it’s going to come up somewhere.”
But when the locating equipment wasn’t successful, Parker said Pulaski County Public Service Authority, which shares the sewer main with Dublin, joined in the effort. Unfortunately, two more methods used to try to find the leak proved unsuccessful as well.
“By this time, all the manholes going up Broad Street were beginning to fill and … flow (into Pepper’s Ferry) is not increasing at all, so the general though was ‘yes, they’ve penetrated the pipe and it’s going somewhere.’ We kind of thought it was going down in the ground,” Parker told council members.
“You have to understand, this is a DEQ-driven project, supervised by the EPA, without our knowledge, to determine if there is groundwater pollution,” Parker stressed. “I’m thinking all along ‘well they’ve just created the biggest mess you’ve ever wanted to see going in the groundwater.’”
Parker said H.T. Bolling was called to the site and wasn’t sure where the sewage was going either. Parker said it became obvious the town was going to have to pump the sewage from the upper manhole, around the site, 24 hours per day or “in four to five more hours it’s going to start running out of the manholes.”
By the time all the necessary equipment had been mobilized at the site, Parker said it looked like a NASCAR pit crew.
Ultimately, an excavator had to be brought in because it was determined the sewer pipe was 17 feet deep and essentially embedded in rock.
“This is a key to what I’m trying to get DEQ and EPA to understand – that pipe wasn’t traceable,” Parker said, noting that Miss Utility had marked the site prior to drilling. “It was too deep, it was embedded in rock and it was a clay-type pipe installed in the 40s and nobody even knew where it was.”
He speculated a shoulder-width trench must have been dynamited through the rock in the 40s because that’s all the rock that had been cleared for the line. Essentially, he said, those who installed the pipe in the 40s “were laying pipe in a trench that you could hardly even see sunlight in.”
Once the sewer flow was re-routed and everything was stabilized, Parker said, “Everybody could kind of breathe for a change.”
Digging to repair the pipe began Friday, Nov. 16, and it was finally uncovered Saturday morning. At that point, they realized there was a little good luck involved in the situation. Parker explained, “Not only had they drilled through the pipe, they had grouted our sewer line full, which was a blessing in disguise because all of that was backing up all of the flow. So we actually did not contaminate much of anything at all.”
The down side, though, was that “the project went from a six-foot-long piece of pipe to 44 feet. We had to keep digging until we ran out of grouted pipe,” said Parker.
A portion of Electroplate-Rite’s fence also had to be taken down and a gully had to be cut through the company’s driveway to accommodate the pump hose and allow trucks to still access the property.
On Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 6 p.m., the sewer system was restored to working condition, according to Parker.
He said he has been trying to negotiate with Myles Bartos of the Philadelphia EPA office. Bartos was the on-site coordinator at Electroplate-Rite.
Bartos called Parker Friday to say the EPA had reached a decision on the town’s request for reimbursement.
“He said they had come to a decision whereby they felt sorry for us and could feel our plight in having to pay this money, but their legal department had worked long and tirelessly to find some precedence whereby they might be able to pay the town of Dublin some money,” said Parker. “But to no avail. We were turned down.”
Dublin Town Council voted unanimously Thursday to authorize Parker to draft a letter to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner advising him of the town’s predicament in hopes Warner might assist in the matter.
Other than the $22,000 paid to H.T. Bolling, Parker said the town’s costs include some outstanding bills for fence and asphalt repair, and his salary for a week of working at the site and the cost of other employees who were involved in the repairs.
“I’ll be satisfied with the $22,000,” Parker told council.
“It’s kind of ludicrous that somebody can pull into a little town like this and not give any kind of notice and start drilling on what they suspected, I guess, was Electroplate-Rite’s property …,” said Mayor Skeens.
“Anyway, they came in out of the blue and decided it would be a good day to drill, did all this damage and pretty much before Bill could get the phone call and get somebody over there to take care of it, these guys jumped in their car and took off, and we can’t get them to respond to us now,” Skeens added.