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July 12, 2013

City seeks $5+ million to repair potentially ‘catastrophic’ sewer damage

Main northside drainage pipe damaged in 2011 tornado

CULLMAN — The City of Cullman is seeking between $5-6 million in grant funds to repair a massive, potentially hazardous sewer pipe that was heavily damaged during the April, 2011 tornadoes.

If left unrepaired, officials say the high-capacity line could sustain further damage and cause a “catastrophic” environmental disaster if it were to rupture into nearby Eight-Mile Creek.

A total of $49 million in Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) funds have been set aside for Alabama recovery projects, and $25 million of that has to be spent in counties hit hardest by the deadly storms: Cullman, Tuscaloosa, Jefferson, DeKalb, Franklin and Marion. The deadline to qualify a project for the program is July 22.

Officials hope to receive enough grant funds to replace the 9,400-foot-long, 24-inch pipe that runs along Eight-Mile Creek and drains the entire north side of the city’s sewer system with a larger, 36-inch pipe. The project, which is being submitted as a “critical need,” will also replace four smaller lines that feed into the main trunk line.

Work is estimated to take approximately 18 months to complete. The pipe routes do not require any roads to be closed or dug up, but city officials will be making contact and working with a handful of residents who live near the pipelines.

Most of the lines were originally installed in the 1960s, and after the storm ripped up trees and soil surrounding the main pipe, city water department manager Chris Freeman said portions of the line are now completely exposed to the elements. If inclement weather strikes again — or natural erosion clears too much of an area’s foundation — officials fear the line could break and spill sewage into the creek and nearby neighborhoods.

“We’re just trying to fix it and make it better, that’s what we really want people to understand,” Freeman said. “These are pipes that were laid a long time ago and it really needs to be replaced now. The real worry now is that it’s starting to wash away. If that happens, it could be catastrophic.”

Freeman said if the trunk line does burst, it could be extremely expensive and complicated to plug and divert the sewage flow to avoid environmental contamination.

“We actually tried to plug it and get a camera in to look, but the pressure pushed it out, and the bypass we have couldn’t keep up with the flow,” he said.

‰ Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.

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