Tonawanda News — A sanitary sewer break along Schenck Street in North Tonawanda, that city officials feared could have developed into a sink hole, continues to receive emergency attention this week as crews rush to alleviate the problem.
The dilemma began late last year when city employees discovered a 300-foot portion of an antiquated clay pipe, thought to be nearly 100 years old, had disintegrated causing stone to tumble out underneath the roadway and sending water into some residents’ basements.
But the problem could not be attended to until this week because of harsh winter conditions, according to officials, despite the threat of a void opening up under the roadway east of Niagara Street.
City Engineer Dale Marshall said his team initially sent in a camera to investigate the line, when “we realized the sewer was completely clogged with several tons of stone.”
“The amount of tonnage that was removed was the size of a car,” he said. “The line was supposed to be round but it was more like a squashed egg.”
The fractured sanitary line belies a much more ubiquitous issue throughout the city, with aging infrastructure constituting dozens of miles thought to be in similar conditions.
Like most of Western New York and the nation as a whole, the city’s water and sewer pipes are in rough shape, with sections of predominantly clay pipes often decades old found to be dilapidated.
Yet with a likely pricetag of tens of millions of dollars to update the city’s infrastructure at large and with cuts to federal and state aid, the city has increasingly turned to its Department of Public Works crews to shave on costs and address the issue piecemeal.
The North Tonawanda Common Council and Mayor Rob Ortt are expected to release their capital budget next week to address flooding and other widespread issues.
DPW Supervisor Brad Rowles said his department has been increasingly using its employees for such projects, while also taking advantage of state rates that apply to municipalities to further shave costs.
Rowles said that the city is using a contractor to lay new plastic piping along Schenck Street for about $30,000, but also estimated that by not using internal sources that cost could have easily doubled.
“I can open my contract book and buy materials at very discounted rates because the state bids on them,” he said. “I pay about $1.20 less per gallon of gas than the resident do. Our turnaround time is quick and employees are already working for the city. That adds up to a big savings for the city.”
Ortt said the city is trying to stay ahead of potential problems elsewhere in the city, citing work on Payne Avenue and Rumbold Avenue over the past year.
“Sometimes you don’t’ see it until it’s too late,” he said. “It puts more stress on our streets. I’m glad we caught this when we did.”
Detours will remain in place on Schenck Street through the end of next week, when the project is expected to be completed, Rowles said.