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Millers Falls Road plumbing fix goes awry

Recorder/Paul Franz
Tom Bergeron, Superintendent of the Montague Department of Public Works, points to the man hole at the entrance to the Airport Industrial Park in Montague, where a replaced line came up a foot and a half too high. Behind him are the portable pumps that have been moving things up hill since the sewer line along Millers Falls Rd failed.

Recorder/Paul Franz Tom Bergeron, Superintendent of the Montague Department of Public Works, points to the man hole at the entrance to the Airport Industrial Park in Montague, where a replaced line came up a foot and a half too high. Behind him are the portable pumps that have been moving things up hill since the sewer line along Millers Falls Rd failed.

MONTAGUE — Work done to fix a section of sewer line under Millers Falls Road, serving industrial park businesses, a nearby trailer park and others, has not had the intended effect.

Blame remains to be assigned, but the new pipe does not line up with the existing pipe.

The contractor installing a new section of sewer line to bypass an incurably blocked section laid the pipe at a depth and angle that resulted in the new pipe ending a foot and a half above the pipe with which it was meant to connect at the junction of Millers Falls Road and Industrial Boulevard, according to the engineering consultant.

Sewage is still getting where it needs to go, by way of hoses, rented pumps and a sewage hauler, but the town is now looking at a costlier fix and a longer wait.

The Board of Selectmen voted this week to declare the situation an emergency in order to approach the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance for permission to proceed without the usual advertising requirements, and adopted a provision of a state law to allow the town to fund emergency sewer work without an appropriation in place. An appropriation for a major project would come through town meeting under normal circumstances.

Paul Gilbert of the engineering firm Camp, Dresser & McKee, presented the situation to the Board of Selectmen, informing them of the botched installation and a sinkhole that had developed hours before the meeting Monday.

The problems began in April under Industrial Boulevard, then continued with apparent sand blockages in crumbling asbestos-cement pipe along Millers Falls Road. Attempts to clear the blockages with water jets, by the Highway Department and others, ended in a sinkhole and the near loss of a contractor’s jet rod truck.

The town hired one of four bidders, after an abbreviated emergency bidding process authorized by the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, to replace the blocked section of line west of the intersection along Millers Falls Road.

Gilbert said Baltazar Contractors of Ludlow began digging and immediately found the existing pipe was buried 6 inches deeper than shown in plans.

Baltazar dropped the new pipe half a foot deeper, but by the time they reached the intersection the new pipe was a foot and a half above the existing lines, Gilbert said.

Gilbert presented a number of options to address the issue, including exhuming and re-laying the new pipe or replacement of just enough pipe to re-establish the necessary grade. The problem with these solutions, Gilbert said, was the discovery of a fresh sinkhole on Industrial Boulevard, near the intersection, indicating that line has broken. The new sinkhole developed after the contractor laid 30 feet of temporary pipe after the contract was suspended, according to Gilbert.

The other options involve running new line east of the intersection and north up Industrial Boulevard to bypass the fresh problem and re-connect to the existing pipe, or replace the entire line, which Gilbert said may be too brittle for a connection.

Robert Trombley, sewage treatment plant superintendent, said the material used for the pipe was popular in the 1960s and 1970s but now entirely disused. The asbestos cement is in particularly poor shape in that stretch, likely due to the stronger waste discharged from the Australis fish farm. Trombley said stronger waste means more hydrogen sulfide gas, which forms sulfuric acid in combination with water.

Gilbert’s cost estimates for the options ranged from $370,000 to $920,000,

Cost estimate for the entire project, including the work already done, would be $1.6 million at the upper end and add $46 to the average sewer bill, Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio said.

Wednesday, Abbondanzio said the town has the necessary permission from DCAM and the Department of Revenue to negotiate with the contractor to lay new pipe up to the first manhole, on Industrial Boulevard, 255 feet, as the first phase of what may be a longer project. Unless the project encounters further difficulties necessitating emergency work, spending for any further work will go to a special town meeting for approval.

Abbondanzio said he didn’t want to comment on the blame question.

“There was an elevation issue, and we’re investigating it,” he said.

Abbondanzio said he wouldn’t presume to point the finger now.

“It’s a contractor, a surveyor and an engineer and we’re looking at the whole situation,” he said.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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