WATERVILLE — Timothy LeVasseur has seen a lot of unusual situations in his 45 years working in wastewater treatment, but nothing quite like the one he is dealing with on Water Street in the city’s South End that dumped 14 to 15 million gallons of sewage into the Kennebec River and will cost about $150,000 to fix.

When a sewer main break was reported Nov. 29 to LeVasseur, superintendent of the Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District, he thought it would be a quick fix.

He has discovered it is anything but.

The problem occurred at the east end of Sherwin Street on Water Street, where a 36-inch, gravity-driven stormwater pipe runs downhill under the street and a 30-inch force sewer main was laid over it in 1974.

Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District Superintendent Timothy LeVasseur awaits the delivery of stormwater pipe Monday to go with these sections of 30-inch steel pipe to repair leaks on Water Street in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

Workers digging in the area after the Nov. 29  sewer main break were startled to discover that contractors who put the sewer pipe in in 1974 actually cut the stormwater pipe under it, nestled the sewer main inside the pipe for a length of about 15 feet and entombed the whole arrangement in concrete to stabilize it. The sewer pipe deteriorated and leaked.

“It’s a significant, inappropriate decision that was made,” LeVasseur said Monday at the site. “What I saw was a massive block of poured concrete on top of the pipe. It was, seriously, a block as big as a pickup truck, about 2.5 feet thick.”

Contacted Monday for comment, David Madore, director of communications for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said in an email that DEP was notified of the main break shortly after it was discovered and DEP staff have been on site to assess the situation.

“KSTD management has been providing the department with updates on a regular basis,” Madore said. “As of last Friday, December 6, KSTD has set up two large pumps and lines, allowing them to pump around the main break and this is capturing nearly all of the 2.4 MGD  (million gallons per day) dry weather flow. Depending on the weather, repairs could be completed by the end of the week. DEP has taken a number of factors into consideration, and we believe there is currently no bacteriological exposure risk due to limited use of the river at this time; however, this incident highlights the critical need to address the state’s aging wastewater infrastructure in the near future.”

The sewer main break has taken days to fix because of a combination of things, not the least of which is that the extent of the problem was difficult to identify, initially, so the sewerage continued to dump into the Kennebec River at a rate of 2 million gallons a day, according to LeVasseur. Also, workers, using a jackhammer, had to chip away at the concrete around the pipes to remove it.

A search by LeVasseur, who has been with the Treatment District 24 years, as well as several contractors helping with the problem, revealed there were no places in Maine where 66 feet of 30-inch stormwater replacement pipe was available, so they had to look elsewhere.

They finally found a company in Montreal that had the pipe and it was being shipped to Waterville. LeVasseur said Monday evening that it had arrived in Gardiner and would be in Waterville at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the sewerage flowing through pipes from Waterville and nearby treatment district communities is being directed to its main pumping station on the east side of Water Street and pumped through a temporary bypass system at the treatment plant on the south end of Water Street. The bypass system was installed by treatment district staff and Ted Berry Co., of Livermore.

Crews with the Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District work on the broken sewage line on Water Street on Friday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Levasseur said identifying the problem and finding a solution was possible because of teamwork by the treatment district, Kennebec Water District, Waterville Sewerage District, city of Waterville and contractors who, when they heard of the severity of the problem, dropped everything to help. LeVasseur and others responded quickly when they learned of the break. Waterville police and firefighters and other parties worked in the cold Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, LeVasseur said. He said that in 1999, a similar break occurred near the current one and it was fixed in just over two days, but this was different.

This time LeVasseur called Ray Pelotte, of Fanado Pelotte Construction, of Waterville, who was concerned and wanted to help. They contacted Kennebec Equipment Rental Co., of Fairfield, whose representatives went out of their way to supply equipment including a pavement cutter, air compressor and light tower. Levasseur called E. J. Prescott, of Gardiner, who responded, and supplied the 30-inch sewer line replacement pipe. Ultimately Ranger Contracting Inc., of Fairfield, got involved.

Al Hodsdon, an engineer and chairman of the treatment district Board of Trustees, and Nick Champagne, also a trustee and the city of Waterville’s engineer, got involved.

The treatment district is the third largest municipal wastewater treatment plant in the state, treating all sewerage in Waterville, Fairfield, Benton and Winslow, LeVasseur said. Included in its coverage area is Huhtamaki on the Fairfield-Waterville line.

At the Water Street site Monday, a 50-by-14-foot hole about 10 feet deep revealed where the stormwater and wastewater pipes are located and where the concrete had been removed. LeVasseur said that crews can not work in the hole when it is raining, but they planned to install the pipe as soon as conditions permit. They hope to complete the project by the end of the week.

Champagne said at the site Monday that all of the entities worked well together and shared their expertise to help solve the issue.

“What I was most impressed with was the reaction and willingness to help from other districts — Waterville Sewerage District, Kennebec Water District, the city of Waterville — public works has been a big help, working hand-in-hand to find a solution,” Champagne said. “It’s not every day you get a project of this complexity that comes up.”

While the work is ongoing, there has been no interruption of service to residents and businesses in the area, he said.

Levasseur said Mr. Roy’s Auto Repair, Scotty’s Pizza and The Chez, all on Water Street, have been helpful and have not complained about the disruption near their businesses.

“They have been good,” he said.

Levasseur plans to retire at the end of January, and Champagne, who has been hired to replace him, will start working at the district Jan. 2.

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