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More details provided by the city, DEQ about repairs and impacts on environment

PMG PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - The city of St. Helens has five water reservoirs throughout the city, but this tank on Pittsburg Road, has been ongoing numerous repairs to stop the tank from leaking. The tank is currently empty and contractors are working to determine the best way to repair a liner inside which has continued to leak, despite ongoing efforts to fix it.Several months after city staff reported on an ongoing water reservoir repair project, the progress of the repairs remains in limbo.

A repair project for one of the city of St. Helens' five water tank reservoirs is still ongoing as the contractors try to determine the best way to ensure repairs are done correctly.

Repairs on the 2-million gallon reservoir tank on Pittsburg Road were initiated three years ago, but efforts to repair a liner in the tank which allows water to leak out have yet to be successful.

The water tank was refilled last week and the contractor, Western Partitions, had a third-party inspector visit the site on Monday and Tuesday, July 29 and 20, to help identify why leaking continues when the new liner is installed to provide the best options for repair, Sue Nelson, City Engineer and Interim Public Works Director, explained.

Sharon Darroux, the city's engineering project manager, said efforts to have the contractor fix the liner that covers the interior of the reservoir have continued because it would be more costly for the city to void the warranty of the liner and its installation.

"Right now, the project is still under warranty, so the city is not shelling out all this extra cash," Darroux said in an interview in June. "(The contractor) is coming back to do the work and it's kind of on their own dime."

The tank has been leaking since at least 2009. After a series of joint repairs, the tank was leaking less, but still had close to 15,000 gallons of water seeping out each day. Water leaking below the reservoir enters a catch basin before it is run through a dechlorination system before it flows downhill towards McNulty Creek. Typically water that leaks but does not enter the catch basin, still has time for the chlorine to naturally dissipate before it might enter a natural waterway.

When asked how often the functionality of the dechlorination system is tested, Nelson explained that it depends on how much water is being run through it.

"If it is just leaking, the flow is slow. If we are trying to empty the water, then we open the drain valve and the water comes through faster (although it is through a small pipe) so there may be extra samples to be sure that things are consistent," Nelson said by email.

According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, drinking water can contain between 1 and 4 parts per million of chlorine. Nelson said the water in the city's tank typically has a concentration of 0.7 parts per million of chlorine.

When drinking water needs to be discharged during maintenance, it can be discharged into the sanitary sewer system, so no permit is needed from the state. However, if the water is discharged into storm drains or natural water, a permit may be required.

In this instance, a spokesperson for DEQ said it had not determined if a permit was needed, and would expect the city to report any high levels of chlorine concentrations to the state.

Nelson said so far, no reporting has been needed.

Ron Trommlitz, a St. Helens resident who lives next to the water reservoir, has expressed his own concerns about the project, however. He recently sent a letter to the St. Helens city council outlining a timeline of the repairs that have been done and the public information he has been able to collect relating to the project.

One of his primary concerns is that he feels he has not gotten straight answers and worries the city council may not be aware of the project and its full scope, which is what prompted him to email the council.

Trommlitz also worries that the city is spending money on pursuing a project that appears to be somewhat futile. He said it would be helpful, "if the city would just come out and say we have a problem and we're working on it."

Representatives for the city insist that work to fix the reservoir will be completed, but there needs to be time for the contractors to hold up their end and repair the liner or figure out what is causing the leakage.

"We have to allow them to make it right," Darroux said.

So far repairs have cost the city around $477,000, which has included cost for contract work and some inspection work, Darroux said.


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