Thursday, July 10, 2008

Big bucks in the pipeline -- Corrosion eats through pipeline in Lincolnville

Big bucks in the pipeline

Corrosion eats through pipeline in Lincolnville

Publication Date: 07/10/08

The city has determined it will have to spend about $1 million to replace a 1,600-foot pipeline behind its Waste Water Treatment Plant in Lincolnville that has been leaking for years.

After only an hour of digging up a 40-foot section of the pipe it was "self-evident the pipe needs to be replaced," said John Regan, city chief operations officer. The section of the corroded metal pipe that the city unearthed from the muddy marsh along the Intracoastal Waterway ranged from having large gashes to several golf ball-sized holes.

"We were hoping the pipe would have a little more integrity and could be repaired, but that's not the case," Regan said. "The Swiss-cheese nature (with the holes) at the top of the pipe alone shows there is extension corrosion."

City staff will now go before the St. Augustine City Commission on Monday to move forward in finding a company to install a new pipe. The project also will call for a new Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit.

Regan is hoping the entire process of putting in the new pipeline will take no more than six weeks and cost no more than roughly $1 million.

He said the money will come from surplus funds in the city's utility budget.

The city has known about the damaged pipe at least since 2004, and millions of gallons of treated fresh water have drained into salt-water marshlands.

This has disrupted the ecosystem and caused the area to become a vibrant green compared to the surrounding brown marsh, according to DEP. Environmental Protection's water program administrator has said the department is discussing with its attorney whether or not the city will be fined for the violation.

DEP also is expected to issue a consent order to the city mandating the problem be corrected and creating an expedited time line for the work to be completed.

The city manager has admitted the city put off replacing the pipeline because it cost too much. He said the original estimate was more than $3 million for the project.

Last week, the city received an Environmental Protection permit to repair the pipe, but both the department and city staff knew the pipeline likely would need to be replaced.

Leaks aren't the only problem. A February 2006 diver inspection report, conducted by the city, showed the pipeline is missing the last 120 feet. The city also repaired two major breaks in the pipeline in June 2007.

City staff found a way to cut costs in the new pipe's construction using technology and equipment common in the oil industry, Regan said. The new pipe would be fused together in the Intracoastal Waterway and then floated across the marsh during high tide and pulled into place.

"I'm glad to see (the city) did our very best to come up with the right answer for the community," Regan said. "We are doing the right thing replacing the pipeline."

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