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9/5/2007
Weekend Sewage Leak Undetected- Councilman Weiner Calls For County Employees To Work Off-Peak Shifts

Brandywine Community News September 5, 2007

Councilman Robert Weiner (R-Chatham) said that if the same problem occurred in the middle of the day on a Wednesday, crews would have likely noticed the problem earlier. He suggested that the county request that more Special Services employees be asked to be work off-peak shifts during the next round of contract negotiations with those employees.
 
 

County expects fine for sewage leak

By Jesse Chadderdon
Staff Reporter

Posted Wednesday, September 5, 2007 at 2:49 p.m. 
 
"We expect there to be some type of fine due to the magnitude of the release, but we don't have specifics of that yet. As for the EPA, they are aware of our situation and have asked some questions."
- Tracy Surles, head of the Special Services Department which manages the county's sewer system. 
 
 
New Castle County is expecting to be fined by the state environmental regulators after its largest pump station failed August 4, causing as much as 8 million gallons of sewage to leak into the White Clay Creek.

County officials briefed the county council on the fallout of the spill Tuesday and said they expected a fine from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and possibly greater scrutiny from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"We expect there to be some type of fine due to the magnitude of the release, but we don?t have specifics of that yet," said Tracy Surles, who heads the Special Services Department which manages the county's sewer system. "As for the EPA, they are aware of our situation and have asked some questions."

Surles called the spill, which caused a fish kill in the White Clay Creek, "the largest we're aware of in the history of New Castle County."

Regis Yurcich, who oversees the county's pump stations, said the county is in the process of spending $28 million to upgrade 11 pump stations built in the 1970s and early 1980s - including the Sears Avenue station where the spill occurred.

Those expenditures were authorized well before the spill he said, and more than $800,000 in work was ongoing at the Sears Avenue station when the power supply was interrupted there, causing the five pumps there to shut off.

What essentially happened, Yurcich told the council, is a switch that transferred power from one source to another became stuck in between. An alarm was not sounded because it was wired below the transfer switch, and did not pick up the problem.

To make matters worse, the power failure began at about 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, when no crews were on duty. A number of workers were on call, but were never notified of a problem because the alarm was not triggered. It wasn't until about 4:15 p.m. that a resident called the county to complain of sewage rising through manhole covers that a crew was dispatched to the site, Surles said. She said the pumps were back online before 5:45 p.m.

The pump station has an 85-million gallon capacity each day, but averages about 18-million gallons.

Councilman Robert Weiner (R-Chatham) said that if the same problem occurred in the middle of the day on a Wednesday, crews would have likely noticed the problem earlier. He suggested that the county request that more Special Services employees be asked to be work off-peak shifts during the next round of contract negotiations with those employees.

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