When the sewer lines burst, Public Works cleans it up

YOUR TAXES AT WORK: an irregular series looking at what Campbell River taxpayers get for their money

Tree planting is one of the many things city workers spend their summer days doing.

City workers up late repairing a sewer line break along the Old Island Highway.

While city worker Zane Ziolkowski was doing his regular rounds at the lift stations on Nov. 25, a resident in the area told him about a strange liquid squirting out of the ground.

Turns out there was a sewer line break under the Old Island Highway.

“It’s difficult to deal with. You have to deal with it quickly and efficiently and safely,” Ziolkowski said. “It can be quite a process and takes a lot of equipment and manpower.”

Luckily a call to BC One indicated that there weren’t any other utilities in the immediate area that digging would interfere with so the road crew broke through the pavement with an excavator and used the vacuum truck, which pulverizes the dirt with water and sucks up the mud, to access the broken line.

“It just slurps it up and it doesn’t harm anything that is under there so it is just excellent way to dig and not cause more problems,” Ziolkowski said.

Sewer is the only utility that you can’t shut off, Ziolkowski explained. It never stops coming. The vac truck was also useful because it cleaned up the spill at the same time, preventing contamination of the other utilities such as water.

This latest sewer break occurred during the work day, but it just as easily could have happened at night, like the water line break on Cedar Street last winter.

“The water main blew, it took out the road,” said Barry Poslowsky, of the city roads crew. “It plugged all the storm lines, sanitary lines. It flooded out everywhere, the streets and everywhere else.”

Jon Isfeld, Roads and Drainage supervisor recalls the site of the break looked like a post-apocalyptic world.

It was all hands on deck to get the systems back up and running.

The sanitation team was on site using the vac truck to flush out the lines. The water team was making sure everything stayed clean and clear so that there wouldn’t be boil water advisories, and the roads crew put everything back together. All the while trying to keep the public informed of what was going on, and safe.

Keeping the public and the workers safe factors in to a lot of the emergencies that the city crews respond to and the preventative measures that they take.

Over the long weekend in November there was a massive effort by the city workers to prevent flooding.

“I think pretty well every department was out there with finance and administration in behind for a good team effort,” said Ron Neufeld, deputy city manager.

The public works staff spend a lot of time taking preventative measures and up keeping the city infrastructure so that there aren’t disruptions and everything runs seamlessly. The sewer lines are flushed yearly, brine is applied to the roads to prevent a build up of ice, storm drains are kept clear as well as many many other things.

The call of duty has no limitations. Brad Sephton, green spaces coordinator, said that parks crews are called out on a weekly basis to clean up garbage that someone illegally dumped on city property.

The road crews are also out at least once a week cleaning up graffiti, and everyone is picking up used needles.

“I got one today – a taxpayer flagged me down, there was a needle down by the pier, just laying there,” Ziolkowski said.

But it is all part of the job and instead of complaining, the crews showed concern about what the needles say about what is going on in the community.

“We’re not just the workers we are the taxpayers too,” Sephton said. “We take pride in our work.”

And, for the most part, if they do their jobs properly, the general public won’t even know they are there.

A city works crew uses the vacuum truck to dig where an excavator would damage other utilities. High pressure water breaks down the dirt and it gets sucked up and out of the way, cleaning up whatever is leaking as it goes.