Haddonfield sewage spill still raising stink

Posted: May 10, 2013

A sewage spill in March that has been a concern to some Haddonfield residents has been adequately cleared away and the area has been remediated, according to a spokesman for Camden County.

But even if the mess is gone, the furor rages on, with a contested Board of Commissioners race less than a week away.

A county Health Department inspector issued no violations to the borough during site visits this week and last, but instructed that the solid matter on the site, in a wooded area not far from the Wedgewood Swim Club, be raked up and the area spread with lime to control bacteria growth, county spokesman Ron Tomasello said.

"It was not considered a health hazard, but whenever you have a sewer spill like this, it's considered a public health concern," Tomasello said.

According to a statement by Mayor Tish Colombi, the borough got a report from the club March 11 about sewage overflowing from a manhole in a nearby wooded area. In the overflow were waste, grease, and paper. Borough workers set out to clean the main pipeline and stop the overflow, but wet conditions kept them from cleaning the site, the statement said.

A state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) inspection Monday, prompted by some residents whose concerns were recently voiced to the department, resulted in the borough's being told to develop a plan to keep the sewer line open and allow access to the site, according to agency spokesman Larry Hajna.

"We're putting them on notice that they have to take steps to make sure this doesn't happen again," Hajna said.

He said the borough was also told it should have notified the state when the spill happened. No citations or violations were issued, however. And while Hajna said it was likely that some runoff from the site reached the Cooper River, he said it happened long enough ago that the impact would be difficult to assess.

With an election just days away in which all three commissioner seats are up for grabs, the handling of the spill has become a source of controversy.

Haddonfield United, the grassroots group instrumental in defeating a referendum proposal for the school district to buy the Bancroft school site, posted photographs of the spill area last week on its website after being contacted by residents, according to group member Brian Kelly. He said residents say sewer leakage has been frequent in the area for several years.

"It's going to take a long time for the area to clean it. The whole area still stinks of feces," Kelly wrote in an e-mail.

He added, "our elected officials are on notice."

Exactly who knew what and when remained unclear Thursday.

Hajna said the borough told the agency about problems with grease accumulating in the line about a year ago, but an overflow was not mentioned.

Joseph Keating, Haddonfield's director of utilities, said there had been overflows that the borough reported to the DEP, but said he forgot to report this one. He said the last one was about two years ago.

The line is scheduled to be replaced, and designs are being considered, Keating said. Replacing the main could cost the borough $1 million or more, he said.

The blockage was taken care of when it was reported in March, but "for whatever reason, we forgot about" cleaning up the sewage, including feces and wastepaper, that came out in the spill, he said.

Colombi, who is also borough public works director, said she learned of the spillage only recently but was told by staff that the blockage was corrected right after it was reported by the swim club.

Of the cleanup, she said, "They probably should have done that sooner."

Disciplinary actions against municipal employees may be taken if deemed appropriate, she said.

In late 2012, the borough asked its engineers to perform a feasibility study into rerouting the line, Colombi said.

She said blockages can happen in a town like Haddonfield that has old infrastructure.


Contact Rita Giordano at 856-779-3893, rgiordano@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @ritagiordano.

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