Sewer pipe breaks in Clark Fork River near St. Regis

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A break in a sewer pipe in St. Regis dumped approximately 1,400 gallons of raw sewage into the Clark Fork River. The leak was detected quickly and the pump turned off, causing no harm to people or the river, according to the Department of Environmental Quality. (Kathleen Woodford/Mineral Independent)

A sewage pipe which crosses the Clark Fork River in St. Regis sprung a leak on Thursday, Jan. 10. Members of the St. Regis Sewer District immediately shut off the line with minimal spillage into the river. Chairman of the St. Regis Sewer District, Jerry Jones, said they acted as soon as they saw the pressure drop in the line and all responsible parties were notified immediately including the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Fish and Game; and the Montana Corps. Of Engineers.

A press release from DEQ was sent to The Missoulian which stated they responded to a report that the main pipe had a leak in the river and an undetermined amount of untreated sewage was released into the river. Sewer District personnel contracted Trenchless Solutions out of Missoula to find and help fix the problem. Trenchless was working with Allied Trenchless from Lake Chelan, Wash., to fix the pipe.

Nate Williams, the main operator for the St. Regis Sewer District told The Missoulian that he estimated 1,400 gallons of liquid waste leaked out in the few minutes before the pumps were shut down. But Jones said it’s hard to determine exactly how much escaped into the river. As workers fixed the leak, Superior Septic hauled wastewater from the town’s lift station to the lagoon located on the other side of the river. Customer service was not interrupted.

A professional diver from Washington plunged into the frigid Clark Fork waters on Monday, Jan. 14 to plug the break in the 6-inch sewage main. The pipe goes across the river and was buried four feet deep when installed around 1995, Jones said. Up until now, there hasn’t been any problems but speculation is that the high flood waters last spring exposed the pipe. Leaving in vulnerable to damage. Approximately 80 feet of pipe was exposed said Kurt Fossen, with Trenchless Solutions.

A special protective sleeve made of Kevlar was ordered from back east to fix the pipe. Kevlar is the same material used in bulletproof vests and is “about as strong as you can get,” he said. They had to order a big piece spanning 500 feet for the job, which is what made it a special order. “Not many companies can provide it,” he said.

The sleeve was inserted into the pipe, which was dug out on both sides of the river. It was then threaded through the pipe and once repairs are complete it will be reburied under the water.

“We were lucky because temperatures have been mild and the river isn’t frozen over,” Fossen said.

Once the pipe was tested, pumps were turned back on.

“There are no hazards to the people or the river. We are working to get it complete as fast and safe as we can for our community,” Jones told the Mineral Independent last week. “It will be good as new when we are done and we’ll get agency officials to put their rubber stamp on it before deemed complete.”

DEQ reported that there were no hazards to the people or the river as a result of the spill. Jones said an insurance adjuster has been out to the site and officials are hoping their policy will cover most of the costs.

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