Village seeks reimbursement for repair of damaged sewer line

WELLSVILLE – The Village of Wellsville is seeking reimbursement for repairs to a sewer line that was damaged on the property of the former Sterling China works last December.

Village council approved a payment of $18,528.67 to Allison Contracting of Wellsville, who repaired the damages, during its most recent meeting on Tuesday evening. Councilwoman Diane Dinch also announced that the village would send a letter requesting reimbursement of the above amount from U.S.T. Environmental Contractors of Baltimore (Ohio) for causing the damages, which necessitated the replacement of nearly 100 feet of sewer line on the property of the former pottery.

When asked about the reimbursement effort, Wellsville councilman Tony Cataldo said, “We hired [Allison], we’ve got to pay them, and it’s up to us to try to get the money back.”

The Wellsville Volunteer Fire Department purchased the six-acre site on Commerce Street between 11th and 12th streets in 2011 for use as a training area and as the possible site of a new firehouse. Last May, the Columbiana County Port Authority contracted Tetra Tech NUS, an environmental engineering firm in Pittsburgh, to investigate possible contamination at numerous sites in Columbiana County, including at Sterling.

Tetra Tech subcontracted the removal of five underground diesel storage tanks at the Sterling property to U.S.T. Environmental. The sewer line break was reported at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 20 of last year. Although raw sewage began to escape from the pipe, the work crew from U.S.T. Environmental continued digging, eventually destroying almost 50 feet of clay sewer pipe.

Jerod McComas, operations manager at U.S.T. Environmental, said the firm had obtained a confirmation number from the Ohio Utilities Protection Service, meaning that the site should have been subject to an inspection for any underground lines that would have been in the way of the excavation, with warning marks identifying areas to avoid. “There was no markings whatsoever,” McComas said via phone on Thursday.

Members of village council have asserted that the presence of a clear, conspicuous line of covered manholes should have provided ample indication of the sewer line below. However, McComas says his firm performs underground tank removals on a regular basis and has never encountered a sewer line running through a tank cavity. This is because leakage from the tanks could penetrate the sewer pipes, resulting in diesel contamination of the sewage system.

Greg Stewart of United Water, which manages Wellsville’s sewage treatment facilities, said he was informed that the sewer line had been re-routed to accommodate the underground tanks. He cited the pre-cast concrete manholes near the line as evidence that it had been altered sometime over recent decades. “That tells you that [the manholes] have been replaced within the last 40-50 years,” Stewart said.

The bottom line, according Wellsville Mayor Susan Haugh, is that the firm never obtained a permit for the excavation, leaving village officials in the dark about the project. “We had no knowledge of the dig going on,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting. It wasn’t until after the 50-foot section of sewer line had been destroyed that the village learned of the excavation.

For his part, McComas remained focused on the mission of removing the diesel tanks. “There was no way to pull those tanks without damaging that line,” he said. McComas asserts that U.S.T. Environmental’s responsibility for the damages was reflected in their lending the firm’s excavator to Allison free of change during the repair process. “We helped the city fix their issue,” he said.