RUMFORD — Raw sewage was pumped from the site of a sewer-pipe replacement project onto a neighbor's land and through a culvert under Route 2 that drains into the Androscoggin River, town officials acknowledged Friday.
The neighbor, Eric Davis, said he feared pollutants from the sewage would get into the nectar of wildflowers that his hives of 80,000 honeybees tap.
He said he notified the Maine Department of Environmental Protection of the sewage issue on June 27.
Depending on the DEP investigation finding, the town could be fined from $100 to $10,000 a day for the illegal discharge of sewage into the Androscoggin River watershed, said John Glowa, DEP environmental specialist.
The routine sewer-pipe project that began last month took on nightmarish proportions when the Public Works dig on Prospect Avenue encountered a huge aquifer and a broken manhole.
Additionally, when the sewer line was installed in the 1960s or 1970s under former U.S. Route 2, it was buried more than 20 feet deep and is now within the aquifer, said Andy Russell, Public Works superintendent.
Russell said sewage was pumped onto the land for two hours each on two days. Now it's being pumped through fire hoses around the work site at the intersection of Prospect Avenue and Eaton Hill roads to a nearby manhole accessing the same sewer line.
The line carries sewage from a nursing home down Eaton Hill Road to join the Prospect Avenue line that carries sewage from Rumford Center to the Mexico sewage treatment plant.
Russell and Town Manager Carlo Puiia said they would work with the DEP to file a plan of correction and rectify the problem.
That was welcome news to Davis.
“When they did it the first time, I was a bit upset; but when they did it the second time, I was more than upset," Davis said of the sewage discharges. "Now they're doing the job right."
Davis and Russell said the problem began on June 8 when the manhole started sinking.
"It started with a sinkhole in the road about 10 feet by 15 feet and about a foot deep, and we started excavating to find where the dirt went and had a problem with the pipe, so we're trying to repair the sewer pipe," Russell said.
What he calls the "Nightmare on Prospect Avenue" began when his crew learned that the sewer line and manhole pipe were within the aquifer, which they couldn't reach because of the abnormal volume of water.
And, soil in the dig site kept collapsing toward the trench cage.
"The dirt is very sandy and that's why we need the (steel) sheet piling in order to stabilize the site so we can work on it," Russell said.
So what began as a one- or two-day, $54,000 project quickly escalated to beyond the scope of the department's resources to the point where he had to hire additional contractors.
On Thursday, a pile-driving crew from H.B. Fleming of South Portland began lifting and driving steel sheets into the dig site using a crane and pile driver. They, in turn, hired another contractor to ensure that vibrations from the work didn't cause problems for neighbors.
Russell also hired an engineer from Mainland Development Consultants of Livermore and well-drilling service Layne Christensen Co. of Dracut, Mass., to dig point wells next week to de-water the site.
"We do our own repairs, normally, but this became more of a job than we're used to," Russell said. "Our normal trench cages are not enough because we need to stabilize the area for the water line."
He said the water line never broke, so residents in the area didn't have to boil water.
Russell said they have to put the new precast concrete manhole into the hole at the same depth as the broken one to allow access to the sewer line, which passes through the aquifer.
"We have no choice," he said.
He plans to reline the old pipe and put another pipe inside it to prevent future problems.
"Our geography works against us in many ways," Puiia said. "So, basically, it's an inconvenience for the neighbors, but nobody has been without sewer and water or access to their homes."