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Fenton Officials: 'Flushables' Aren't Flushable

Clogs at Elizabeth Street sewer lift station damage one of the two pumps; city is replacing equipment and converting to three-phase electrical service.

Fenton Officials: 'Flushables' Aren't Flushable

The city of Fenton’s verdict? “Flushable” cleaning rags and other products — aren’t.

The Elizabeth Street sanitary sewer lift station has been experiencing pump plugging in pump #1, said Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Daniel Czarnecki, at Monday’s council meeting. When that happens, DPW staff pulls the pump from the wet well and clean off the flushables and other debris wrapped around it.

“Flushables are not really flushable,” Mayor Sue Osborn said.

It’s an issue that is arising across the nation, Czarnecki said.

None of Fenton’s other six sewer lift stations have the problem, he added. After a number of cleanings of pump #1, part of it’s been damaged. The cost to rebuild it, from Kennedy Industries, would be $4,932, while installing a new one would cost $5,368.

The city upgraded all seven of its sanitary sewer lift stations in summer 2010. It replaced the motors, pumps, controllers, and wet wells, and added a standby generator to each station. But Fenton’s Elizabeth Street sewer lift station is the only one the city has that’s powered by single-phase electric service instead of three-phase electric service, he said.

Fenton’s previous engineering consultants from HRC told Czarnecki the original Elizabeth Street lift station was single phase, and they replaced it with the same. HRC looked at the existing power source, and three-phase power wasn’t readily available, Czarnecki said.

DPW staff believe the one-phase electric service is leading to the problem with the pump plugging at the Elizabeth Street station, he said.

“We suspect there are just as many ‘flushable’ products being sent down the sewer in all areas of town, but the pumps in those areas are able to move those products along,” Czarnecki wrote in his Nov. 19 memo to City Manager Lynn Markland.

Single-phase pumps don’t have the power when they start up to clear the pump enough and move “flushable” materials along, Czarnecki said. Three-phase pumps, however, have more power at start-up to move these materials along. If the city continued with single-phase pumps, the Elizabeth Street sewer lift station would most likely keep experiencing plugging, he said.

Councilman Les Bland, also a retired Fenton DPW director, said his department sent flyers to every house on the Elizabeth Street system at least three times. People didn't pay attention, even though sewage can run into houses if the lift station fails, Bland said. This happened a number of times in the southeastern part of the city, where the Elizabeth Street lift station serves approximately 400 houses.

As a result of the flushables issue, instead of rebuilding or replacing pump #1 at the Elizabeth Street sewer lift station, Czarnecki recommended that city council approve the purchase of two pumps and variable frequency drives for power conversion (to three-phase). The cost is $7,990. In addition, installing these purchases is another expense, hopefully under $1,500, he said.

Council approved the $7,990 quote from Kennedy Industries, of New Hudson. The money will pay for two Flygt pumps and two AC Tech variable frequency drives.

A licensed electrician with experience in sewer pump stations will install the equipment, Czarnecki said, and the city was trying to find a good price for the installation.

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