By Polly Lynn Mikula
BRANDON—Old pipes and erosion led to a break in a Brandon sewer pipe, spilling over one million gallons of sewage into the Neshobe River. This is the second time in a month that over a million gallons of wastewater has dumped into the river.
The most recent break occurred April 4-5 in two locations. At 500 Union Street over one million gallons of discharged treated and partially disinfected effluent spilled into the Neshobe, and at Mill Street and Conant Square 500,000-1,000,000 gallons of discharged untreated sewage spilled into the river.
Less than a month prior, on March 7, another spill of over a million gallons of raw sewage went into the Neshobe. Brandon Town Manager Dave Atherton then said the area around the pipe, down past Mill Lane almost to the post office, had eroded and exposed the 12-inch concrete sewer pipe, which dates back to the 1930s. The pipe was broken open in two places where it runs along the Neshobe between two manholes.
That pipe was repaired but the patch broke less than a month later causing the recent spill.
According to a report by Stephen Cijka, chief wastewater operator on anrweb.vt.gov: “The 30 feet of polyethylene pipe that was replaced earlier this year at this spot broke away from its couplings due to the river water overflowing its bank at that spot and floating the pipe up and out of its couplings and into the water downstream.”
A new bypass pump, hose and iron pipe has been ordered, which will reduce the chances of the pipe floating out of position in the future, Cijka continued.
At the second location “High flow due to broken sewer pipe at bottom land of Mill Street and Conant Square next to the Neshobe River took in a 12 inch pipe of river water that overwhelmed the disinfection system at present flow proportioning setting,” he reported.
The pipe was repaired early Thursday evening, April 5, and the flow went down immediately, Cijka added of the corrective actions taken.
The river had been running high for days during both breeches due to warmer temperatures and snowmelt from the March 30 storm.
At the time of the March overflow, Brandon was not the only town to experience wastewater spills. According to the monthly Watershed Management Report from the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), which covers Feb. 12- March 12, sewer overflows were listed in Manchester into the Battenkill and Shelburne into Lake Champlain. The Manchester spill was only 100-1,000 gallons, and Shelburne was estimated at 100,000-500,000 gallons.
In April, the ANR report from March 10-April 10, showed Brandon reporting the only significant spill. The town of Pawlet reported 1,000-10,000 gallons of discharged treated and partly disinfected effluent into the Indian River and the city of Montpelier reported 1,000-10,000 gallons of of sewage and stormwater into the Winooski River (which was authorized in order to protect the sewer system, prevent overflows from other parts of the sewer system, and to prevent backups into homes and other buildings, according to Christopher Cox, chief operator).
Many Vermont towns struggle to keep up with their aging municipal infrastructure and Brandon is no exception. Brandon’s wastewater plant was built in 1960, and there are 22 miles of sewer pipe running through town, much of which dates from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Atherton said the fact that the pipes often run along the river makes potential breaks even more dangerous.
“Why they would run a sewer pipe along the river, I have no idea,” he said, after the March breech. “It’s ridiculous. This is a problem statewide. We all have aging infrastructure. We just fixed a half mile of pipe out of 22 miles, so we have a ways to go. There has been years of not-so-good maintenance and we’re playing catch up.”