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Stonington overloaded WWTFs stopped from overflow
by fast acting United Water crew 

By Tom Kasprzak - The Sun Staff

STONINGTON - Water leaking into sewer-pipe joints during a weekend of heavy rains caused the overload at the Stonington Borough waste treatment plant 10 days ago, according to officials from United Water, the company that staffs the town's three sewage treatment plants.

Harold Storrs, director of the Water Pollution Control Authority, said the town's three sewage facilities experienced considerably high flows on Friday, Oct. 14. By early Saturday morning, 2 million gallons of water and effluent rushed through each of the treatment facilities, a figure that officials say overwhelmed the borough plant.

The Pawcatuck plant and Mystic plant both handled the flows well, according to United Water officials, but at the Borough plant the wet well - which stores the sewage and water - began to leak into the dry well, which houses the facility's pumps that treat the sewage.

United Water representatives explained that the pumps in the dry well were submerged and the electrical components shorted out.

"We mobilized our entire management team," explained John Marcin, project manager for the town's three plants. "Our strategy was to pull in and treat everything we could."

He said that the flows began to subside Saturday evening, and by Sunday all three plants showed normal levels of sewage and water.

Because the pumps at the Borough plant were incapacitated, Marcin said, supplemental pumps were quickly brought in, along with three pumping trucks, transporting effluent away from the borough plant over the course the Pawcatuck facility for about three days.

No untreated sewage flowed into the harbor, and there were no reports of basements being flooded with sewage, according to Marcin.

"It was a hectic night but things could have been substantially worse," Marcin said, explaining that crews worked tirelessly from about 2 a.m. Saturday through Sunday to make sure no sewage went untreated.

"It seems you guys did an extraordinary job," Marc Ginsberg, a member of the authority said.

James Sisk, chairman of the WPCA, said he arrived at the Borough plant that Saturday morning and witnessed the non-stop work of United Water employees to make sure all sewage was properly treated.

"If they hadn't done what they did there would be a lot of people carrying (sewage) out of their basements in buckets," he said.

Officials also said that the diversion of sewage from Mystic was stopped during the crisis.

Tom Haggerty, a Pawcatuck resident and former member of the Citizens Review Panel that reviewed ways the town could cut down on nitrogen levels in 2000, questioned why the Borough facility was under such duress.

"Something extraordinary happened at the borough plant," Haggerty said, questioning why the same did not occur at the Mystic and Pawcatuck plants.

Haggerty asked officials whether someone had perhaps opened up a manhole cover in the streets that could have allowed a rush of water into the Borough facility.

Storrs agreed that it is puzzling to consider that the Borough plant could not handle the flows as efficiently as the Mystic and Pawcatuck plants, but an investigation is ongoing and officials plan to look very carefully at why the borough plant was under such pressure, he said.

Haggarty raised concerns about possible hurricanes, questioning what would happen during a crisis of that caliber.

Storrs explained that, during the last hurricane the region experienced, all three plants operated well. Sisk said wind is a factor to be more concerned with during hurricanes than the level of water. He noted that his concerns are with the number of boats that dot both the harbor and the Mystic River, which are in close proximity to the sewage plants.

"One of those boats being tossed at those plants could make one heck of a mess," Sisk explained.

Sisk reminded those present at the meeting that the borough plant is over 30 years old and most likely experienced overflow because parts need to be replaced.

"The older the infrastructure gets, the worse it gets," he said. "The bottom line is that we made it work."

tkasprzak@thewesterlysun.com