Wastewater spills into LaPlatte River

Wastewater spilled into the LaPlatte River from this facility on Irish Hill and Thomas Road on July 29.
Wastewater spilled into the LaPlatte River from this facility on Irish Hill and Thomas Road on July 29.

For the second time in two weeks, the town of Shelburne reported another accidental discharge of wastewater – this time into the LaPlatte River.  While the discharge was reported as being in the 100-1,000-gallon range, Water Quality Supervisor Chris Robinson said much of that fluid did not reach the LaPlatte River. He estimated that less than 100 gallons of the spillage reached state waters.

The last discharge was on July 20 when 103,000 gallons of insufficiently chlorinated wastewater went into Shelburne Bay.

Water Quality Superintendent Chris Robinson said that it was not due to any clear cause when asked about the culprit in the break of a sewer pipe on July 29.

Given the fairly heavily traveled nature of the location of the break, which was near the Irish Hill Road-Thomas Road intersection, the problem was discovered quickly. Robinson estimated that the discharge lasted for about 20 minutes. The wetness oozing out of the ground had been spotted by a passerby at approximately 2:50pm on Friday afternoon. By 3pm the Wastewater Department was on site and 30 minutes later the contractor arrived.

“By seven o’clock that evening, it was dug, repaired and backfilled,” Robinson said.

While some residents have expressed concerns about the underlying cause of the break, Robinson said that the incident was very definitely not a matter of aging infrastructure. The pipe was still, by industry standards, relatively new.

“It’s not even halfway through its life expectancy,” Robinson said. That life expectancy is over 50 years, and the pipe was installed in 1991. Robinson also noted that there was not any human error or other clear cause involved.

Town Manager Joe Colangelo stressed that the discharge did not constitute a threat to public health. He compared the break to an outage of a utility – something that is undesirable but that occasionally happens. Robinson expressed a similar sentiment, saying that breakdowns are inevitable but rare.

“Municipal utilities just like electric and cable companies have unforeseen failures with transmission lines. It would be unreasonable to expect absolutely no sewer line breaks ever,” Colangelo said.

At this point, the break of this sewer line does not necessitate its replacement. Barring future issues with the line, Robinson expects that it should last about another 25 years. There are other upgrades in the works with the wastewater system, however, which are designed for the municipality to meet Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements.

“Last year voters passed a $3,000,000 bond to help improve our sewer system. Unfortunately, that is probably not the last large expense required for maintenance and upgrades to meet the requirements of TMDL,” Colangelo said.

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recently launched a system to allow people to receive alerts about wastewater incidents. Interested residents can sign up at: https://anrweb.vt.gov/DEC/WWInventory/Subscriptions.aspx

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