Wrightsville Beach public works staff said a quick response on Sunday, Dec. 10 helped crews stop and repair a sewage pipe break that led to 75,000 gallons of untreated sewage was spilled into the Intracoastal Waterway on Saturday night.
Crews were able to have the broken segment of the Northeast Interceptor sewer line replaced by Sunday evening, Wrightsville Beach Public Works Director Williams Squires said. And testing of water of nine sites near the Wrightsville Beach boat ramp on Monday showed only one had elevated levels of bacteria, Squires said.
“One sample was elevated, but the rest were below acceptable levels on the first tests on Monday. With the tide cycles, Tuesday’s tests should show everything back to normal,” Squires said. “We’ll test every day until the results are acceptable.”
Crews discovered a hole approximately the size of a fist in the Northeast Interceptor sewer line that runs under the Intracoastal Waterway. Squires said that the failure in the sewer main was in a segment east of the waterway that is under approximately eight feet of earth, which caused a wastewater build up that overflowed and spilled into the waterway. The spill was reported at 11:54 p.m.
Crews shut the valves to the sewer main and trucks used in a “pump-and-haul” operation to transport sewage from the town’s lift stations to treatment stations on the mainland.
Squires said that an initial assessment of the damage showed that the pipe may have been damaged when installed in 1983. Though not ruptured when installed, the damage could have caused the protective coating to fail, he said.
“The pipe had two holes in it, about the size of a fist, almost like where two excavator bucket teeth would be,” Squires said.
Town staff reported the spill to the North Carolina Division of Environmental Quality.
Squires said the town received crucial assistance from other agencies and departments to quickly fix the pipe. Since the pipe was an odd size, crews were able to get a replace from the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority on Sunday, while contract T.A. Loving was also quick to respond, he said.
The Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen has been exploring the costs of building a redundant sewer line under the Intracoastal Waterway and a recent engineering report to the board showed that the line could cost as much as $2 million. The town pumps nearly 1.7 million gallons of raw sewage each day off of the island, the engineering report said.
That report also showed that the sewer line was in some places just inches below the bed of the waterway. The town contracted the study in response to a proposal to expand the dock facilities at Grand View Apartments across from the town’s boat ramp, as town leaders said a mistake in construction, or damage from a boat or anchor, could rupture the line in a way that’s difficult to fix, potentially leading to a large spill.