32-year-old sewer system showing signs of wear

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DIXFIELD — Thirty-five feet below the earth’s surface, two motors in the town’s Hall Hill Road pump station roared to life as they pushed sewage through the pipes to the treatment plant in Mexico.

Engineer Paul Pomerleau, of Ted Berry Co. Inc., of Livermore, was providing an in-depth tour of the pump station and some of the seven substations scattered throughout the town that serve Dixfield’s 650 households.

The 32-year-old system is beginning to show signs of wear and tear, Pomerleau said, particularly at the major pump station.

Town Manager Eugene Skibitsky said an audit of the town’s water and sewer departments will be conducted at the end of the month as a first step in a process that could result in a sewer rate increase.

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Skibitsky and new Selectman Bob Withrow were taking a look at the multimillion-dollar sewer system Friday morning.

They looked down the circular accesses at various sites around town.

The Ted Berry Co. has been operating the town’s sewage pump stations since 2007. The company is also overseeing the new force main installation at the Webb River bridge project.

If the electricity goes off for more than three hours, when sewage could start backing up, vacuum trucks are called in to haul the sewage to the Mexico plant.

At least weekly, Pomerleau or some other Berry employee checks each pump station to make sure it is operating properly. If an issue arises, an alarm automatically goes off and Pomerleau is notified. A 24-hour-pager also notifies the operator of a problem.

“It could be a pump or flow issue,” Pomerleau said.

A few weeks ago, a pipe ruptured at the bridge project over the Webb River, resulting in four or five truckloads of sewage being hauled to Mexico.

The Hall Hill pump station automatically shut down, Pomerleau said, and within five or six hours, all functions were back on line.

“We have response plans in place,” Pomerleau said.

About $1.5 million in upgrades will be needed within 10 years, Pomerleau said.

Skibitsky said the Sewer Department should start saving for the upgrade because it has nothing in reserves and owes the town about $50,000.

“It’s almost worth considering building our own treatment plant,” he said.

And although Pomerleau said such a venture may be worth considering, he didn’t think that Dixfield operating its own system would be cheaper.

The Sewer Department pays Mexico $25,000 a year to treat sewage.

“That’s the easy cost,” Skibitsky said. “The hard one is all the infrastructure to get it there.”

Auditors are expected to analyze the sewer rates on Feb. 28 and Feb. 29.

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