Sewer line break reported near power plant

A crew from A. Lindberg and Sons stands near the site of the sewage spill. Crews plan to remove and replace all contaminated soil today. (Journal photo by Mary Wardell)

MARQUETTE — We Energies is cleaning up a sewage spill at the Presque Isle Power Plant this morning after officials discovered a black discharge in the grass on the east side of Lakeshore Boulevard Thursday evening.

“We observed a black area on the east side of Lakeshore Boulevard right across from the power plant and a hole, and we suspected that’s where the city sewer line is,” said Claire Twohey, senior specialist for the environmental department at the plant. “We called the city, and they told us that it was actually our sewer line that was in that area, so we started the process. We made a mistake notification.”

We Energies is required by law to notify the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Marquette County Health Department and local media. Twohey said the MDEQ assessed the site Thursday night.

The black discharge plume is about 15 feet in diameter and the pipe is about three feet below the surface of the ground, she said. Crews are excavating the line to repair it today.

“We shut off our lift station at 9:30 p.m., so that ended the discharge and we are working on pipe repairs today,” Twohey said.

While they can’t determine the cause of the break until the pipe is excavated, they suspect possible frost damage, Twohey said.

Regarding concerns about environmental contamination, Twohey said the discharge did not reach the lake itself.

“It’s raw sewage,” Twohey said. “We’re (going to) remove it, and it’s on the ground itself, so it did not go into the water body, so I think it should be OK.”

MDEQ Environmental Engineer Jay Parent said the sewage goes to a tank at the mill then it’s pumped through a pressurized line to the city collection system.

Parent said there is a leak at the pressurized line.

“We had them shut down the pump,” Parent said. “The sewage was confined to a small area, and the area was barricaded off last night.”

Parent said he hopes to see repairs completed today and that crews are going to dispose of the soil that came into contact with the sewage and replace it with clean soil.