OR: Sewer Line Mix-Up spills1.7 Million Gallons into river

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Eugene, Ore., Sewer Line Mix-Up Sent 1.7 Million Gallons of Sewage into River Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News Publication date: 2000-06-19

Jun. 19--A 23-year-old sewer line mix-up has probably sent more than 1.7 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Willamette River. Contractors working on Fifth Avenue between High and Pearl streets in downtown Eugene this week discovered that a sewer line running from two buildings on the north side of Fifth was mistakenly connected to a storm-water pipe.

The city operates two systems for water discharges -- one carries wastewater and sewage to treatment plants, the other collects rain and stormwater and dumps it into the Willamette River without treating it.

Workers on Monday were installing the first leg of a $6.6 million, 3.2-mile Eugene Water & Electric Board water line that will run west across town. When they removed the storm pipe running under Fifth Avenue, they noticed that it contained raw sewage, said Eric Jones, spokesman for the Eugene Public Works Department.

The next day, the city sent inspectors to the site, and they traced the sewage to buildings at 285 E. Fifth Ave. and 295 E. Fifth Ave., Jones said. The buildings house a collection of retail shops, a massage therapy business and a delicatessen.

Jones said the sewer line was mistakenly connected to the storm water pipe instead of the wastewater line sometime in 1977.

"I think we have an honest mistake that occurred long ago," he said. "It was obviously unintentional."

The city hired Eugene Sand & Gravel to reroute the sewer line into the wastewater pipe. The work, which the city will pay for, was completed Thursday. The cost isn't known yet.

It was unclear Friday whether the city mistakenly connected the wrong pipes or a private contractor working for the building's then-owner made a mistake.

The buildings are owned by Eugene-based Jenova Land Co., which is operated by developers Tom Conner and Don Woolley. A Jenova manager said the company acquired the buildings in 1990. It is unclear who previously owned the buildings.

No fines will be issued for the illegal dumping. "We're not going to go back and try to figure out what happened in 1977," Jones said.

There is no readily accurate way to measure how much of the untreated sewage ended up in the river, he said. An average single-family home discharges about 5,500 gallons per month into the wastewater system.

The multi-tenant buildings probably discharged more than that, he said, so a conservative estimate would put the figure in excess of 1.7 million gallons over the 23 years.

Jones said such pipe misconnections are "fairly uncommon." Nonetheless, the city plans later this summer to do some smoke-and-dye testing in downtown area pipes to look for similar errors.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), June 23, 2000

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