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Officials: Sewer leak a red flag

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/26/2021 9:53:07 PM
Modified: 7/26/2021 9:53:11 PM

LEBANON — Damage to a sewer main that required $55,000 in emergency repairs earlier this month could signal larger problems for a roughly 2.5-mile stretch of sewer line that runs from the Enfield town line to an area near the Packard Hill Covered Bridge, city officials warned last week.

Corrosion found on the outside of a sewer main that broke near the Mascoma River could be present throughout the line, City Manager Shaun Mulholland told the City Council during its regular meeting.

If that proves true, he said, costly repairs or even the relocation of the sewer to Route 4 could follow.

“We’ve got to address this,” Mulholland said. “We can’t afford to have a forced sewer main failing that’s upstream of our water supply.”

Problems with the sewer line were made apparent after a break near Hardy Hill Road was reported July 8. Because of heavy rains passing through the Upper Valley at the time, crews were forced to wait two days to excavate, said Jim Donison, the city’s director of public works.

“The cause of the issues was the pipe had seriously corroded,” he said in an interview Monday.

The exterior of the sewer line, which was installed in 1986, was likely a half-inch thick when it went in the ground, Donison said. But when crews dug 18 feet down to the pipe this month, it had degraded to about 1/8 of an inch, he said.

That discovery has Lebanon exploring if, and to what extent, repairs are needed.

Donison said his staff will soon start digging test pits to visually inspect the pipe along the route. The city, he said, also is considering electronically scanning the pipes by sending sensors through them.

An assessment could run anywhere between $40,000 to $100,000, the public works director said. Long-term fixes would run much higher.

He estimated that repairs to the pipe could cost anywhere between $300,000 to $1 million, while relocating the sewer to Route 4 would be between $4 million and $6 million.

The sewer line, which is pressurized to draw water uphill, also could pose problems because it doesn’t have manholes allowing for quick access.

Instead, repairs would require crews to dig down and temporarily reroute wastewater.

“Both are big dollar items,” Donison said. “Our hope is that it hasn’t corroded along the entire length and it just might be restricted to select areas.”

The corrosion problems coincide with the city’s efforts to complete its combined sewer overflow, or CSO, projects, a $73 million, federally mandated effort to separate sewer and stormwater in 15 miles of Lebanon’s sewer system.

Construction on those improvements is currently underway, including a project affecting daytime traffic along Route 12A in West Lebanon. It’s also adding to property taxes and utility bills as the city works to pay off long-term debt.

The City Council late last year instituted an 8% water rate increase and a 7.2% increase in sewer rates, which happen on an almost yearly basis, for 3,300 customers in Lebanon and those in neighboring Enfield

Money collected from those bills will help pay for the CSO projects, along with a recent $2.5 million project to upgrade the sewer interceptor that connects downtown Lebanon to West Lebanon.

Lebanon Mayor Tim McNamara said last week that he’s hoping future repairs won’t further tax residents and ratepayers. However, he said, officials won’t know what to expect until public works and consultants wrap up their study of the sewer line.

“I’m hoping that this section that was just addressed has some sort of specific problem that’s limited to that section and this is not a problem that has a greater extent,” he said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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