A broken waste water pipe from Porter Creek to the city’s sewage lagoon is estimated to cost $850,000 to repair. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)

Whitehorse aims to repair sewer pipe by freeze-up

‘The reality is that I don’t see this as optional’

The estimated cost to repair a leak in the Porter Creek flush tank system is $850,000.

At the standing committees meeting on Feb. 5, Whitehorse city council learned that’s what it will take to remediate any contaminated material at the site of a leak near the Yukon River. That figure will also cover the cost of repairs to the system, which carries wastewater from Porter Creek and Whistle Bend, across the Yukon River to the Livingstone Trail Environmental Control Facility (LTECF).

“We have not seen any evidence of an environmental breach here into the Yukon River,” said Peter O’Blenes, the city’s director of infrastructure and operations. “We’re fairly confident that there wasn’t a lot that has leaked out. However, we won’t know until we dig up and figure out which way that plume has gone.”

Geoff Quinsey, the city’s manager of water and waste, told the News the leak was first suspected during a check in February 2017, when water and sewer personnel noticed a small ground sink at the site (routine checks are performed weekly, with more detailed checks taking place monthly).

Within five days, the system was switched over to a backup pipe. In August and October, city staff did a round of smoke testing, pushing high-pressure smoke into the system to determine the exact location of the leak in the pipe.

In November, council approved $30,000 in emergency funds to pay for an assessment by engineering consultants Morrison Hershfield.

An administrative report, presented to council by O’Blenes, called the leak “a bona-fide emergency because of risk to public health, city property, private property and the environment.”

Quinsey said the flush system works similarly to a toilet, by using a slug of water falling under gravity to generate the velocity needed to carry solids from Porter Creek and Whistle Bend to the LTECF.

The system has been running on the backup pipe for a year now. There is no backup to the backup.

“That’s why it’s so urgent in my eyes,” Quinsey told the News.

“The reality is that I don’t see this as optional, really,” he said.

Quinsey said council can either approve the amendment to the budget for the creation of a new capital project to repair the system, or it can direct administration to an alternative funding source. According to analysis in the administrative report, repairs to the system are urgent.

“To make the repair within the 2018 construction season, approval is needed now because we are on the critical path to complete detailed design and tender construction in time to avoid doing the work after freeze-up in fall 2018,” read the report.

Coun. Betty Irwin wanted to know when the project will go out for tender. O’Blenes said construction tender would go out in early July, with the hope of finishing repairs by October.

“It seems like if you start construction in July, it’s really going to be pushing it to get finished by freeze-up,” said Irwin. “Is there any way that that process can be, that you can move that process forward?”

O’Blenes said it will depend on engineering work, including drawings, but administration will try to speed that up.

In the meantime, he said checks at the site continue to be conducted regularly.

The issue will go before council on Feb. 12.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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