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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sewage Line Breaks Near Lakeside Home, Residents Concerned

A putrid smell permeated what is usually a beautiful stretch of shoreline near Lake L’Homme Dieu Beach Monday morning.

A sewer pressure force-main broke near Highway 29 North and County Road 73, within feet of Lake L’Homme Dieu on Sunday, according to Bruce Nelson, Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District (ALASD) executive director.

“This is just a fact of life in the sewer business,” Nelson said. “Things break.”

ALASD’s radio system sent a high level alarm at 1:50 p.m. Sunday, indicating the wet well level near the lake was high.

The pump was turned off about 5 p.m. and ALASD contacted the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Nelson said the raw sewage water seen from above ground spanned an area about 100 feet by 30 feet wide.

“We saw it right away,” he said.

The remaining sewage water that spilled onto the land would be treated with lime for disinfection, Nelson said.

Septic trucks were brought in to haul wastewater out to the plant.

“Our employees did a wonderful job last night and I was very proud of them,” Nelson said.

According to Nelson, 12 ALASD employees responded to the site within two hours and worked until 4 a.m. Monday.

“Through their efforts and with the assistance of local haulers, uninterrupted sewer service continued to be provided to all ALASD customers,” Nelson stated in an e-mail to the Echo Press.

ALASD called in D and H Field Services from Osakis for assistance Sunday night, according to employee Chris Zenner. The company has experience pumping manure, he said.

D and H used a portable pump and ran a pressure line to pump the wastewater up to the manhole near the New Testament Church on Highway 29.

Ferguson Brothers of Alexandria was brought in to dig at the site of the break and repair the 8-inch pipe, according to Nelson.

Nelson believes the wastewater did not flow into the lake. Samples of the water were taken at about 9 a.m. Monday from four locations in the lake for fecal coliform testing: the swimming beach; mid-lake; the outlet to Lake Carlos; and about 100 feet from the site of the break. Results from an independent lab were anticipated to be available within about 24 hours.

Nelson said he did not have any reports of sewage in residents’ basements as of Monday morning.

“When sewage spills, it smells, but it is temporary, and the odor did not affect anyone’s home or workplace,” he said.

He anticipated the break would be repaired Monday.

Dennis Miller, president of the Lake L’Homme Dieu Association, voiced concerns about the sewage leaking into the lakes.

“The way the grass is matted back and the defined channel of sludge that is heading into the lake – this is a significant contribution from the flow of this... raw sewage.”

As a retired district conservationist in Alexandria with the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service, Miller said he disagreed strongly with Nelson’s belief that wastewater did not enter the lake.

Miller said he viewed the area from a boat Monday morning.

“There definitely was spillage into the lakes,” he said. “Sewage was hanging on the rocks at the water’s edge.”

He agreed that immediate testing in the lake should be conducted.

“I feel that there was enough sewage in there to cause a concern with opening the beach,” he said.

Miller also expressed concerns about the growing size of ALASD.

“How many of these things are going to keep on occurring in the future because they have gotten too large from what they intended to be?” he asked. “In the past, we have been very concerned with where they are discharging. We recognize that accidents happen and they will continue to happen, but we are also concerned about the amount of volume that they are trying to put through that plant.”

Al Lieffort, park superintendent, said vehicles should not cross through the barricades surrounding the area.

“The rubber line is fairly fragile.”

Lieffort said he wanted the county to find someone to conduct surface water tests for fecal colonies over the next several weeks.

“It is just an idea at this point,” he said.

Lieffort said decisions on whether the lake would be open or closed to swimming would be made after the water test results were received. Signs would post information concerning any closures.

Even though Lieffort felt the sewer break was “quite a ways away” from the beach, he said, “It is going to migrate through the soil and get into the lake eventually. It is unclear how much fecal content can get into the water.”

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