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Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018 12:08 am

Oh, crappy day

City faces sewer repairs

An underground survey of downtown sewer pipes shows that Springfield faces a substantial bill for repairs and maintenance.
Repairs to downtown Springfield sewers will cost between $31.7 million and $56 million, according to a recent survey of pipes, and that may only be a down payment.

The $300,000 study financed by the Sangamon County Water Reclamation District and completed this month was based on cameras inserted in 25 percent of pipes measuring between 24 inches and 36 inches in diameter, with the estimated repair cost for a four-square-mile area extrapolated from sample results. All told, more than seven miles of pipe were inspected. The tab doesn’t include repairs to pipes of other sizes, notably the Town Branch line that serves as the major conduit of wastewater through downtown.

More than half of the Town Branch line measuring between 36 and 48 inches in diameter went uninspected due to debris in the line that blocked camera equipment. Other parts of the line are large enough for a person to stand inside, but surveyors who ventured there retreated out of concern for their safety, said Gregg Humphrey, executive director of the Sangamon County Water Reclamation District.

While the sides and tops of the biggest parts of the Town Branch line are in good condition, the bottom is another matter. Substantial sections of the line’s floor are missing, according to the study, which recommended further evaluation. The line, made of brick and stone and thought to be the oldest in the city, dates to the 19th century.

“They were up to their waists (in wastewater) and couldn’t feel the bottom,” Humphrey said. “They weren’t comfortable in going further. .. The floor could be bad – really bad. We don’t know.”

What is known is bad enough.

Surveyors found more than a half-dozen places where natural gas lines have been poked through crumbling sewer pipes, which could serve as conduits of explosive gas in event of a gas line rupture, Humphrey said. The district notified the city of the gas line issues in December, when they were discovered, Humphrey said, out of safety concerns. The district, he said, considers such gas-line intrusions a high priority.

John Higginbotham, sewer engineer for the Springfield Public Works Department, said the city is in the process of figuring out who’s responsible for gas and water lines that cut through sewer pipes.

“That can be, obviously, a huge hazard,” Higginbotham said.

The survey also revealed considerable wear to sewer lines made from brick, the most common material used to construct downtown sewers. Bricks and mortar are missing, and lines in some areas have deformed to the point that they are more oval than round. Debris in the lines is also an issue. While newer pipes made from concrete or PVC tended to be in good condition, some older pipe that has been rehabbed is due for more work, including parts of the Town Branch line where the constant flow of water has worn away relining material that was put in during the early 1970s.

Higginbotham said the assessment isn’t surprising.

“We know it (Town Branch) needs to be looked at – that’s something I want to review in this report,” Higginbotham said. There’s  a lot of sewers that need a lot of work. I don’t think that’s a surprise to anyone.”

Some of the needed repairs likely are already contained in a citywide $55 million sewer capital improvement program scheduled for the next 10 years, Higginbotham said. The capital plan is in addition to a $43 million proposed upgrade to sewers in the northeast section of the city that’s been done at the behest of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Higginbotham said he hasn’t had a chance to thoroughly review the downtown sewer study, but he believes repairs likely could be accomplished over the next 10 to 20 years. No funding mechanism has been established.

“Obviously, a $30 million to $50 million price tag on a study is something that’s going to require funds,” Higginbotham said.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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