15 spills illegally discharge sewage into Murrysville's Turtle Creek
A faulty sewage line has illegally discharged waste into Murrysville's Turtle Creek 15 times in recent months, state environmental officials said, but local sanitary board officials said they did not know, despite their manager filing the reports.
The illegal discharges along the Monroeville/Murrysville border occurred between July and September, said John Poister, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. The department hasn't decided if the Franklin Township Municipal Sanitary Authority will be fined, Poister said, but it is demanding repairs be made quickly to the main sewage pipe that carries waste to FTMSA's Meadowbrook Road treatment plant in Murrysville.
“We are aware of issues with the force main from the authority's pump station to its sewage treatment plant,” Poister said. “The force main is in a state of disrepair and has frequent breaks that lead to illegal discharges.”
Sanitary authority manager Jim Brucker said that each discharge dumped a little more than one million gallons of sewage into Turtle Creek.
“I intentionally had to shut down the pump station each time,” Brucker said. “Any discharges that happened, there was nothing I could do. There were holes in the pipe for two miles.”
Poister said the authority is required to send a report to his department every time there is an overflow or discharge. Brucker notified the DEP of 15 such instances between July and September, Poister said.
However, sanitary authority board members said they haven't heard anything about a problem with the sewage system.
“I'm not aware of any discharges,” said Vincent Valeri, an authority board member. “Mr. Brucker has been very open about data and information. I'm surprised to hear this is happening.”
Authority board Chairman Mark Adamchik said he hadn't heard about the discharges, either.
“I want to know when these things are happening,” Adamchik said. “We do want to know so we can know the main corrections we need to make.”
When asked about his board members' ignorance of the situation, Brucker — who on Tuesday revised comments from an October interview —said those on the board must be mistaken.
“Everybody is confused,” Brucker said. “They paid the bills (for repairs) all summer.”
Brucker said he submitted between $80,000 and $100,000 in bills to the board related to the 15 overflows.
Murrysville Councilman Dave Perry — a former authority board member and the current liaison between council and the authority — said he worries about the problems with the system. Perry, an environmental geologist, said residents should be concerned about the potential pollution of the water and the possible consequences the state might enforce on the authority.
‘If they ignore this, they might be forced to do it.'
According to September sanitary authority meeting notes that Perry submitted to Murrysville Council, Brucker told the board that there weren't problems with the system.
However, authority engineer Steve Polen said that's not the case. According to Perry's notes — which were obtained by a Right to Know request — Polen recommended a $2.2 million study of all the authority's sewer lines. To pay for that project, which would assess but not correct the problems, monthly sewage rates would have to be raised by $6, said Adamchik.
Perry wrote that Polen told the board that the recommendation “was intentionally not provided for (Brucker's) review as the board needs to have an unvarnished view of issues associated with the Heather Highlands watershed.” If officials opt not to study all of the sewer lines, Polen suggested they spend at least $800,000 to study the Heather Highlands watershed lines.
Perry wrote that there are serious concerns that the state might begin investigating the authority or that there could be a “blow-up” due to the discharge of sewage from manholes downstream of the Heather Highlands subdivision in Murrysville.
In an interview, Polen said that issues with the system became evident as the sewer lines from a new development was connected to the system.
“The developer of the Blue Spruce (Shoppes) was concerned about discharges from the manholes,” Polen said.
Blue Spruce Shoppes developer Herky Pollock did not return calls seeking comment.
The authority has had to install backflow preventers – devices that are used in sewer lines to make sure the waste can't go back where it came from – and other devices that keep a manhole lid from coming off.
Polen said he worries that if the board doesn't do something about the discharges and faulty lines, the state will force their hands.
“Sitting where they are, the board is faced with doing a study to evaluate where corrections need to be made,” Polen said. “If they ignore this, they might be forced to do it.”
One plan already under way
The authority is working with the state on a permanent fix to just the force main, Adamchik said. A repair plan was filed in May of 2012, and Brucker said he hopes construction can begin in upcoming months.
The project, could cost between $3.5 and $5 million, Adamchik said. The authority already has set that money aside, he said.
The 15 reported instances earlier this year were not the first sign of trouble with the line, Poister said. A series of prior breaks were the impetus for the planned repair to the line.
“It was not in good repair and was suffering all these breaks,” Poister wrote regarding the authority's recent problems. “There were discharges into the creek. None (were) major — but they weren't supposed to occur.”
Adamchik said he is aware of problems with the system that arose during the construction of the Blue Spruce Shoppes development along Route 22. The authority ultimately installed grinder pumps to stop the overflows, he said.
The authority has plans to repair the force main as soon as possible, Adamchik said. The board had hoped to reroute the sewage line along the Turtle Creek Railroad, which county officials plan to convert into a rails-to-trails program. Taking that route would make the line easier to service.
Currently, the line crosses Turtle Creek five times – a scenario that wasn't a problem when it was installed in the 1960s, Adamchik said.
‘Something needs to be done'
Authority officials are working with property owners to obtain right-of-way rights for work on the force main, Adamchik said.
He said he thinks the planned repairs would solve many problems.
“The force main is our top priority,” Adamchik said. “That thing is too old. If we can do it smarter and better, we can make it more serviceable.
“Repairing the force main should resolve a lot, if not all, of the issues.”
Murrysville Councilman Jeff Kepler said council is getting “mixed signals” from authority officials and that he's fielding complaints and questions from members of the community.
Kepler called the situation “unacceptable.”
“A system that's working right should not be dumping into a creek,” Kepler said. “Something needs to be done about this.”
Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627.