HANOVER TWP. – A failed pipe that sent raw sewage spewing into Solomon Creek on Sunday was leaking long before it ruptured, an environmental expert who recently completed an extensive survey of the creek's watershed said Tuesday.
Robert Hughes, executive director of the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR) in Ashley, said he first discovered a leak in the terra-cotta sewer pipe leaching contaminated gray water into the creek off Division Street in the fall of 2011.
Hughes, along with interns and volunteers, walked about 26 miles of the creek and its tributaries, at points crawling through underground pipes and scaling cliffs near waterfalls, during an 18-month watershed survey to assess and document the health of the stream.
Before unveiling his findings and recommendations for protection and remediation of the watershed, Hughes showed a Times Leader reporter some areas of concern, including the crack in the sewer line that burst Sunday.
He said it was one of at least six sewage leaks uncovered during the survey, all in Ashley, Hanover Township and Wilkes-Barre. While some sewage might be seeping from private septic systems, most appear to have their origins in municipal sewer pipes, he said. They are documented with photographs in EPCAMR's report with recommendations for remediation.
It's at least a half a dozen more locations that have not only cracks in the terra-cotta pipe, but (also) percolation into the stream bed, Hughes said, that have that telltale gray water.
Hughes said he plans to but has not yet sent copies of his organization's report, which is hundreds of pages long and supplemented by hundreds of color photographs, to all municipalities in the watershed.
He did invite officials from all the municipalities to a Nov. 30 meeting at which he unveiled his findings. The meeting was also previewed in the Nov. 30 edition of The Times Leader.
Though invited, neither Hanover Township nor the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority sent representatives, he said.
Hanover Township Manager John Sipper said he was not aware of EPCAMR's report or of the leak, and that the township would have any leak in its sewer pipes repaired as soon as it heard of one.
When we did hear about it, I think we acted pretty quickly to get the problem resolved, Sipper said.
The township was aware a section of concrete encasing the pipe had separated from the side, exposing part of the pipe. Sipper also noted the ruptured section was slated to be replaced along with a total of 105 feet of sewer pipe, and that township commissioners on Monday voted to accept bids on that repair work, with a bid deadline of Feb. 4.
While sewer feeder lines ultimately flow to the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority, municipalities are responsible for maintaining the lines within their borders. The decades-old pipe originates in Wilkes-Barre Township, and both that municipality and Hanover Township have grown considerably over the years, Sipper noted.
The casing damage was discovered following high water after Tropical Storm Lee struck the region in September 2011, and a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will finance pipe replacement.
On Tuesday, crews from Ed Krasavage Construction, Wyoming, replaced the failed section of terra-cotta line with a 10-foot section of 27.5-inch heavy-wall plastic pipe.
Tim Kalbach, construction inspector for Reilly Associates, the township's engineering contractor, said rubber seals to fix the new segment to the existing pipes arrived Tuesday from California.
Crews were able to circumvent the failed section with pumping equipment obtained from New Jersey, stopping the flow of sewage into the creek early Monday morning, Kalbach said.
Water quality specialists from the state Department of Environmental Protection inspected work at the site several times on Tuesday. Water Quality Specialist Supervisor Len Schall said DEP biologists are likely to return in a few weeks to check if sewage from the ruptured pipe is still present.
Jim Tomaine, engineer and acting executive director of the WVSA, said the ruptured line was probably about 80 years old, which is not unusual for the area.
He said there are likely many other leaks within the Solomon Creek watershed, and noted that a low level of sewage infiltration is allowable by law and that replacing the lines can be incredibly expensive.
The 100 feet of line Hanover Township wants to replace could cost $250,000, Tomaine said.
Over 80 or 100 years with the ground settling and all that, you can't avoid it, Tomaine said.