It appears that Somerset Utility personnel have sniffed out the source of a rather foul problem downtown.
According to Charles Dick, manager of the city’s wastewater department, work on South Vine Street hit paydirt Wednesday, so to speak, when they found the hole through which sewage was escaping into the town springs, causing a pervasive smell throughout that part of town.
Workers had been preparing for several days to dig out an old manhole at the intersection of Vine and Spring Streets, right in front of the Cundiff Square commercial plaza — in the center of which is the original town springs, around which the community of Somerset was first formed.
“We had a really good idea (what the problem was), but once we dug the manhole out, that was the proof we needed,” said Dick.
The problem was that the manhole was old — very old. It had deteriorated to the point that it had eroded a hole beneath it.
That hole opened up into a cave system through which the water flowed that fed the town springs, which opens into the air right there in the middle of Cundiff Square. The manhole was leaking through that hole, putting wayward sewage into the stream — and causing an awful smell.
“We had gotten complaints for quite a while now,” said Dick. “We thought we’d had it fixed about three or four weeks ago, and there was a period of about 45 days where the smell subsided.
“But,” he added, “the smell came back.”
Dick’s department had tagged the brick manhole as the likely culprit, but just needed to get in there to actually find the leak. Dick described it as a “four-way” manhole — sewage comes in from three directions and leaves in one, passing over the hole as it goes.
First, the wastewater department had to redirect the flow. It was coming through a 12-inch line, but Dick and his staff wanted to reroute it so it wouldn’t go in a right angle, taking 90 percent of the flow off of the old manhole. This gave them the ability to get in the manhole and get to work.
“When digging the manhole up, we flooded the cave system with a fire hose ... and all the dye came out in the spring,” said Dick. “That’s how we knew where the problem was.”
Dick said they’d replace the old brick manhole with a new concrete structure, and would put joint restraints on the pipe to prevent them from pulling apart.
“Even if a cave opened up underneath it, the pipe would stay together because of the mechanical coupling on it,” said Dick. “It’s kind of a unique thing, but we want to do it in this area because we don’t want to have the problem again after we fix it.”
Dick expected to have the problem fixed by Wednesday night but it will take several days to flush all of the yucky stuff out of the creek. The process could take up to a week, depending on how much rainfall contributes to the flushing-out process.
With any luck, residents of the area should have much more pleasant outdoor air to which they can look forward in the near future.