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Sewers crumbling underneath those sidewalks

December 1, 2013

by Derick Noetzel

A section of closed sidewalk in the 700 block of Madison Ave. provides a window into a bigger problem facing the city every day – deteriorating 100 -year-old clay pipes.

Keller and Sons Construction, contractors on the job at 759-765 Madison recently tore out a section of broken and blocked sewer piping to make way for replacement material. The old clay pipes are growing brittle and are also compromised because tree roots grow through the clay, said Justin Shievelbein,  a sewer foreman for the city.

“The sewer’s shot,” said John Charland, a Keller employee who has worked on Albany’s sewers since 1978.

The pipes in the Pine Hills neighborhood and throughout much of the city are made of clay tile that resembles “the same texture as a coffee mug, with a different glaze,” said William Jefferson, another Keller employee.

“All the wastewater in the pipes makes the trees grow even faster and the roots end up blocking water flow,” said Charland.

The problem is further compounded when “sanitary run off water from the streets mixes with the sewer line,” Charland said, “so with the root blocking most of the path, water gets backed up into people’s homes, where it isn’t blocked and the two water lines are overflowing the pipes, the overflow of sewage ends up in the river.”

The costs to repair the entire system would be “astronomical,” according to Joe Hahn, project manager at the Madison Avenue site. “It’s impossible to put a price tag on a job. We never know how much work we’ll need to do until we start digging.” There are obstacles that sometimes get in their way to replace the clay pipes, like underground electrical wiring and water lines bringing clean water into homes, Hahn said “We dig the old pipe out, replace it, and replace any curbs or sidewalks too.”

The new state of the art sewer material, PVC pipe.

The new state of the art sewer material, PVC pipe.

As a result, the price for just one break in the sewer line varies greatly between incidents.

Hahn said that the city was having Keller replace the clay tile with the newest state of the art sewer material: PVC piping. “The only thing that makes it weak is sunlight,” he said.

Jefferson said that Keller is on an emergency contract with the city, so when the city employees find issues in the system, Keller is called in to fix it. The workers said they have pretty steady work with their emergency contracts, and that the city needs to revamp its sewer system, especially with large complexes like Saint Rose’s new Centennial Hall. “They put that huge building in to pack a lot of kids in, and all of those kids are flushing into the same brittle sewer system as everywhere else,” Charland said. -30-


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