Niagara Gazette

July 24, 2013

Outside help assisting Falls with wastewater plant repairs, tree removal

Outside help assists city with wastewater repairs, tree removal

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Niagara Falls is getting a little outside help in dealing with the damage done by Friday’s and Saturday’s series of fierce storms that swept through the area.

Millions of gallons of untreated sewage continue to flow into the Niagara River every day as Niagara Falls Water Board staff scrambles to install temporary bypass pumps at the main processing station. A crew from Pittsburgh has been brought in to help with the repairs.

In addition, Mayor Paul Dyster has issued an emergency order that will allow the city to hire an outside contractor to help the Department of Public Works with tree removal.

Dyster ordered Dave Kinney, the director of the DPW to “immediately engage the assistance of an outside contractor(s)” to take down any trees that were “disturbed” during the storm and Kinney views as “a threat to public health and safety,” according to the emergency order signed by Dyster and Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson on Monday afternoon.

As reported Sunday, the Niagara Falls wastewater treatment plant flooded after Dyster said a “water surge” overwhelmed the facility’s pumps.

“The pumps couldn’t fight the pressure and the facility flooded,” he said. “The pumps went completely underwater. As of (Saturday afternoon), there are pumps in place draining the plant. There are spots where you can see the water level decreasing. The facility was under 30 feet of water and it needed to be pumped out.”

Paul Drof, the water board’s director, said that crews have been working around the clock since severe storms knocked out filtering equipment Friday night in an effort to restore water treatment services for the city.

Drof said that service has been fully restored at the gorge pump station as of Monday afternoon, but crews continue to work on installing temporary bypass pumps at the main facility on Buffalo Avenue.

“Our normal flows are between 25 and 30 million gallons each day,” Drof said. “We’re currently treating about half of that.”

While the gorge pumping station was only partially knocked out during the storm the main facility was completely shut down and may require extensive repairs, Drof said.

Workers will install the temporary bypass system to handle the normal daily flows while the water board assesses damage to the equipment and make repairs.

“Those bypass pumps are being installed as we speak,” Drof said.

The water board hopes to be processing all of the city’s waste water by the end of the week, Drof said.

Initial cost estimates for the damage caused by the storm to water board equipment ranged from $500,000 to $5 million, as there was no way to know the extent of the damage while the motors were underwater, Drof said.

“We will exceed the half million dollar figure,” Drof said. “We don’t know what the upper limits are going to be until we get into the other equipment to see what’s been damaged.”

State and federal officials arrived in the Falls Tuesday afternoon to assess the damage and figure out how much outside funding the city will receive for recovery.

“We know we have to fix the system no matter where the money comes from,” Drof said.

Drof praised water board employees he came into work during the storm and continue to work long shifts trying to fix the problem as soon as possible.

“They all came in even though their basements were flooding,” Drof said.

Dyster, who was out in the storm for several hours Friday, said it was some of the most severe weather he has ever seen.

“I’ve talked to a number of people who said they’ve never experienced weather like this before,” Dyster said.

Kinney is to direct the outside contractors to perform work up to $75,000, according to Dyster.

Kinney said Taylor Tree Services, a company out of Ripley, began work in the city Tuesday morning.

“We managed to get a hold of a company that has done work for us before,” he said.

Kinney said that many of the old trees in the city are already weak and the weekend storm likely damaged some of them to the point where they might fall after a brisk gust of wind.

“We don’t want to take a chance that something is going to happen and these trees are going to come down on their own,” Kinney said.