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City of Campbell River blames sewage spill on aging pipe, ‘not construction practices’

Wacor says city shut down pumps during repair, causing sewage overflow at Simms Creek
A break in a sanitary line on July 22 resulted in raw sewage reaching Simms Creek, according to the City of Campbell River. A sign turning people away from the area is shown on July 29, 2019. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

The City of Campbell River says it was the poor condition of an old sanitary pipe – not construction practices by contractor Wacor Holdings – that resulted in a spill of raw sewage at Simms Creek last month.

The construction firm says any raw sewage that entered Simms Creek, a salmon-bearing urban creek, resulted from city officials shutting down sewage pumps while the pipe was being repaired.

The city previously said that Wacor, the contractor upgrading sewage infrastructure along Highway 19A, “inadvertently made contact with (an) old sanitary line,” as reported by the Mirror on July 29.

But in a clarification issued on July 31, municipal director of operations Drew Hadfield said the spill “was not related to actual equipment striking the sewer main or other direct damage.”

In an email, Hadfield said that “construction work in that area had been completed carefully and without damage to the pipe. Sometime after the work was finished, the fragile pipe cracked.”

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He said the “the pipe’s inability to hold up even to work around it highlights the need for its replacement.”

The sanitary line, which is being replaced as part of the sewer upgrade project, failed due to its age and condition, he added, “not construction practices.”

The pipe broke on July 22 near the bottom of Rockland Road, resulting in a half-hour spill of raw sewage, according to Hadfield.

He said the break was responded to immediately, but it “resulted in a spill of raw sewage reaching the foreshore/beach at Simms Creek.”

The pipe was repaired within two-and-a-half hours and “all appropriate authorities were notified,” Hadfield said.

Al Wakita, Wacor’s construction manager and senior estimator, said on Tuesday the break occurred in a decommissioned sanitary pipe that formerly carried sewage down Rockland Road.

He said the pipe is “capped off” or sealed west of Highway 19A but is still connected to the sewage main, which carries sewage northwards from the nearby Simms Creek pumping station.

A map shows the approximate location of a sanitary line (top) that broke on July 22 near the bottom of Rockland Road. Construction firm Wacor Holdings says city staff shut down the Simms Creek pumping station (below) during the repair, causing sewage to overflow into the creek. The mouth of Simms Creek is located approximately 500 metres from the bottom of Rockland Road. Image from Google Maps.

Workers dug carefully around the fragile asbestos-cement pipe before backfilling the hole “with kid gloves,” Wakita said.

The pipe cracked after construction at the site was complete, he said. The spill involved perhaps 1,000 litres of sewage, according to estimates by Wacor staff.

Wakita described it as a relatively small quantity of sewage, the equivalent of perhaps four or five 45-gallon barrels, and said most of it was absorbed into the ground, although a small amount may have entered the marine environment.

Meanwhile, city staff shut down the pumping station to allow for repairs, causing sewage to overflow through a release valve located in a manhole by the creek, Wakita said.

Without that kind of overflow system, sewage would back up into the basements of residents in Willow Point and southwards, according to Wakita.

“When the pumps go off, the gravity feeds coming from Willow Point go back into the sewer line, and before it backs up into people’s basements, it goes out into Simms Creek,” Wakita said. “The overflow is where the majority of the spill happened.”

As for the ruptured sanitary line, he said “it’s an old pipe, and it was probably waiting to blow.”

The sewage spill at Simms Creek prompted the city to close access to the beach at the outfall of the creek until environmental monitoring confirms there is no public health risk, according to Hadfield. Signs erected by the city read: “No beach access due to sewer contamination.”

By Wednesday afternoon, the city was still awaiting test results for the beach, and warnings signs remained in place, Hadfield said.


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