A Matter of Choice

A lateral-repair program in South Williamsport, Pa., lets residents choose conventional or trenchless methods to replace leaking pipes

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Even the most successful door-to-door salesman would be envious of the sewer department in South Williamsport, Pa. The department is correcting a serious infiltration and inflow (I&I) problem by going house-to-house throughout the borough, examining laterals on nearly 3,000 private properties and mandating replacements where necessary.


And with several hundred properties to go, the borough (population 6,400) is already seeing significant reductions in flow — even more than engineering estimates. “The impact has been tremendous,” says sewer inspector Keith Anderson. “Our overflows are down substantially. We shot for the best and it went further than we hoped.”


The program uses a range of repair and rehabilitation methods, including open-trench excavation, cured-in-place lining and pipe bursting.


Under orders

Under a Consent Order and Agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection to repair its deteriorated collection and conveyance systems, South Williamsport began inspecting private building sewers in fall 2007. The project identifies defective building sewers and flags illegal connections to the sanitary sewer system.


It is one of several programs included in the Consent Order designed to reduce overflows and improve wastewater treatment in the area, part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Once a homeowner’s property has been inspected, those with sewer issues are notified by the borough and receive a list of approved repair contractors from which they can select.


“At first, I’d say most property owners selected open-trench methods,” says Anderson. “But over time, the lining and pipe bursting methods became more accepted, and the homeowners began to realize the advantages of not having their property dug up.”


The borough, the project

You guessed right: South Williamsport is the home of the annual Little League World Series. It’s a big attraction, tripling the population for a couple of weeks every August. The borough lies in Lycoming County, across the Susquehanna River from the City of Williamsport.


Sewage is collected in 30 miles of sanitary lines and two pump stations. Wastewater is pumped beneath the Susquehanna to Williamsport, which treats sewage from several small communities. The borough’s engineering firm, Larson Design Group (LDG) of Williamsport, and a number of sewer replacement contractors are working with the borough to remedy the leaking private sewer laterals.


“The main sources of I&I included defective building sewers and illegal sump pumps and drain connections,” says Matthew Peleschak, project engineer with LDG. “Wet-weather flows sometimes peaked at 10 times the average flow of about 700,000 gpd, and the borough then had to divert untreated sewage directly to the river.”


The project began with a survey of property owners that was part of a comprehensive sewer system study. “We asked property owners what they had in their buildings, and that gave us a pretty good idea of where the issues were,” says Peleschak.


The results also established the order of inspections. “We began the private inspection program by looking at about 1,000 properties that appeared to have problems, then inspected the others later,” Peleschak says.


Presentations first

Before the inspections began, LDG and the borough conducted several public meetings to explain the project and answer questions. At one meeting, all 12 of the sewer and excavation contractors who had qualified to work on the project presented their capabilities. “It was a pretty candid comparison of the various capabilities, advantages and costs,” recalls Anderson.

The meetings, and the earlier survey, also enabled the borough to let property owners know the consequences of failing to replace defective lines. “There was resistance at first,” says Anderson. “People complained about costs. But when they realized the surcharge they would have to pay if they didn’t comply — three times the monthly sewer charge — we started to see more buy-in. Eventually, pretty much everybody got on board.”


Peleschak puts it this way: “The surcharge has been very effective.”


How it works

Each property is inspected twice. First, a private firm, Chambers Development and Management Group of Avis, Pa., conducts a building inspection and identifies sewer connections. After that, a two-person crew from the borough’s sewer department shoots a video of the private lateral line from the property to the street.


All the information is conveyed to LDG, where engineers review it, log it into an asset management program, and recommend the appropriate follow-up. The follow-up consists of one of three types of letters the borough sends to the property owner:

• In compliance with the borough’s sewer ordinance (lateral consists of HDPE, PVC or cast-iron pipe and does not leak).

• Situation will be monitored (different pipe material, but no leakage detected).

• Notice of violation (lateral line must be replaced at the owner’s expense).


In the case of a violation, the homeowner also receives a list of all bonded and insured contractors approved to do the repair. The contractors can replace the lateral by pipe lining, pipe bursting, or excavation, and the property owner can choose the method and the contractor.


“I get a lot of questions from the property owners, especially about the methods of replacement,” says Anderson. “I talk to them about their yards and landscaping and the impact and expense of the various methods.”


Financial help

If the household income at a property is below a minimum, the owner may be eligible for a grant to cover 50 to 100 percent of the cost. The grants for low- to moderate-income people are available through a regional agency that administers federal community development block grant funds for a number of communities in central Pennsylvania.


Once a lateral has been repaired, the sewer department crew videos the line again, and LDG reviews the images to make sure the new line meets specifications. Where the property complies or is given monitoring status, property owners are notified that future inspections will be scheduled.


The project should be completed within the year. By mid-May, 84 percent of the borough’s 2,994 private buildings had been completely inspected. “The Consent Order sets a deadline for completing all private inspection by the end of 2012,” says Peleschak. “We’re ahead of that schedule.”


Making choices

Anderson plays no favorites among contractors, but he has enjoyed working with the main pipe bursting contractor, Pine Mountain Excavating of Avis, Pa. “They’re very professional, and they’ve done a good job,” he says.


Dean Edwards, a partner in Pine Mountain, says the firm uses the PD-33 pipe bursting system supplied by Pow-R Mole Sales LLC. “When we’re selected, we go out to the property, and using a Vivax locator, we can tell within six inches where the line comes out of the building, how deep it is, and whether or not there are any utilities in the path,” Edwards says.


“We give an estimate to the property owner. And we camera the line. That allows us to dig our entry and exit holes in exactly the right places. Then we bring in the bursting equipment, starting at the cut-out at the main sewer. We remove all dirt, put in trench boxes for our safety, and feed cable through the existing pipe. We can pull 12 feet per minute, and we have done up to 80 feet in 15 minutes. In some cases, we’ve burst as much as 200 feet.”


Edwards says his crews can complete eight to nine homes in four days. They usually save Fridays for yard cleanup. Anderson says Fridays also allow for any last-minute repairs that may have to be made on lateral replacements, avoiding overtime work on weekends.


Among lateral lining contractors is U.S. Sewer & Drain, which has installed more than 100 replacements in South Williamsport, according Skip Weisner, production manager. The company uses a cured-in-place (CIPP) felt and epoxy product of its own design. “What sets us apart is that we hand dig a very small hole — an incision, really — where the size transition takes place in the line, and remove about three feet of pipe.


“Then we jet the terra cotta pipe and install our liner. It usually cures in two to five hours. Then we remove the pressure balloon, install a cleanout, and backfill the hole.” The company uses Schedule 40 PVC for in-ground fitting. “It’s been great working at South Williamsport,” he says. “Keith Anderson makes the task there very pleasurable.”


Still digging

Fox Hollow Construction LLC of Mill Hall, Pa., has replaced laterals at about 300 properties using the open-trench method, according to owner Blair Strouse. “We dig and replace using SDR35 plastic gasketed pipe,” he says. “We think sometimes you get a better job with our method because you replace the whole pipe and can take out any dips or bends that may have been in the line.”


Strouse also feels his approach can save property owners a bit of cost compared to the trenchless methods. “We’ll be at this project for at least the rest of the year,” he says. “The people at South Williamsport have been real good to work with.”


Despite the expense and the effort over several years, Anderson believes his community has benefited greatly from the lateral and sewer repair projects. Flows to the treatment plant are down, bypassing is being reduced, and other communities are talking with South Williamsport about the methods the borough is using.


“We sort of started this process here,” Anderson says. “We’ve done over 2,000 buildings so far. Man, that’s a lot. Now, we’re sharing information with other communities.”


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