Wells Maine Harbor sewer fails again: no swimming, no fishing allowed

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WELLS, Maine — The project to install a new sewer pipe in Wells Harbor is scheduled to begin earlier than originally planned, Wells Sanitary District Superintendent Nick Rico announced Tuesday.

The current pipe is old and broken and has kept Rico and his staff busy with one failure after another this summer – five leaks to be exact.

NorthEast Earth Mechanics, the general contractor for the forthcoming pipe replacement, was originally scheduled to be on site to begin the project after Labor Day. On Tuesday, however, Rico said the contractor is expected to be on site later this week. Henniker Directional Drilling is expected to start work next week, Rico added.

When asked if he was pleased that the project was starting earlier, Rico was quick to reply.

“That would be an understatement,” he said.

Previous story: Wells Harbor closed to swimming and fishing after canal burst

The sewer line is under the harbor and runs between the Drakes Island jetties to the east bank parking lot at the end of Atlantic Avenue. According to Rico, the pipe first ruptured on July 8 and last leaked again on Thursday, August 11.

Two of the leaks were caused by accidents involving boats – the pipe’s anchoring eroded over time, allowing the pipe to float close enough to the surface to be struck by a passing ship, the city said in a press release last month. The harbor master has been working to install outriggers and moorings to direct all boat traffic away from the floating sewer to prevent further damage and to secure the area for divers who need to repair the pipe. According to Rico, an additional 17,000 pounds of anchorage was added to the line.

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Two other pipe ruptures were caused by ongoing erosion pressures, Rico said, while another was caused by a “stress crack” along the pipe.

Wells Harbor is closed to swimming and fishing

The city has closed the inner harbor to swimming, kayaking, and fishing for much of the summer, although catch-and-release fishing is permitted. On Tuesday, Rico said the district tests the port regularly and the results for fecal coliform bacteria so far have been “well below” the maximum allowable levels.

“The beach is only closed as a precaution,” said Rico.

The other beaches in the city have remained open. The beaches have not been affected by the leaks, the city said.

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In its press release following last week’s fifth leak, the city reassured the public that no sewage will be discharged into the port following these incidents because the pump has been shut down. Pump trucks pumped sewage to the mainland, the city reported.

The fifth burst pipe required a “more serious and significant temporary repair,” so the city said the repair was a day ahead of schedule. The repair took place on Thursday, August 11, and the district reactivated line later that day.

Interim city manager Bill Giroux has recommended that the district, in the event of a sixth line failure, not reactivate it until the permanent replacement of the entire line is complete. The old pipe will be replaced by two new and thicker ones, Rico said.

$1.5 million project to replace old sewer pipes

The Wells Sanitary District, which oversees the pipeline, has been working with city officials and various city agencies to address the matter. The city has also been in liaison with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Department of Marine Resources.

The Sanitary District first installed the line in the harbor in 1978, placing it many feet below the surface of the harbor floor. Over time, this line’s cover was worn away and the original anchors corroded, the city said.

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The port was hit by three Northeasts in 2018, exposing the sewer line so it could float. The line was re-anchored to the bottom of the port that year as a temporary solution, and planning and approval for a more permanent solution began.

According to Rico, the old pipe will be replaced by two new, thicker ones. The project has an estimated cost of US$1.5 million and will be funded through the State Revolving Loan Program administered by Maine Municipal Bond Bank and DEP.

Reporter Max Sullivan contributed to this article.

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