A certain kind of pipe in the city's sewer system has required costly repairs in the last two months, but the Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility Commission is prepared to tackle the issue with money it set aside to conduct an engineering study into the extent of the problem.

A certain kind of pipe in the city’s sewer system has required costly repairs in the last two months, but the Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility Commission is prepared to tackle the issue with money it set aside to conduct an engineering study into the extent of the problem.

The 2012 budget approved by the commission in December included $45,000 for a study to determine which of the city’s force main pipes are in need of replacement. The underground pipes are pressurized and do not have manholes and are difficult to check with video cameras, as is the normal practice.

PBWU Manager Ken Johnson told the commission at its regular monthly meeting Monday that the utility spent about $30,000 in December to replace force main pipes in the area of Phillips Road, a length of pipe where they have had to go in to address problems at least four times. The utility also spent about $53,000 in December to replace force main pipes near the PBWU pump station at Kansas Street. Both were unplanned expenses.

Sewer gases had severely eroded the pipes, which had been underground for about 25 years, Johnson said. They are supposed to have a lifespan of 50 years or more, Johnson said, adding that he believes there is a problem with the way they were installed.

“We will be hiring a professional engineer to give us their perspective and advise us on the best approach to repair or replace, although I suspect the advice will be to replace a lot of it,” Johnson said.

Pretreatment ordinance

In other business, the commission voted to approve and recommend that the Pine Bluff City Council approve an update to the city’s ordinance that governs how local industries must pre-treat their wastewater before releasing it into the city sewer system. The update is required by the Environmental Protection Agency and outlines the regulations, permitting process and methods for PBWU to enforce the pre-treatment standards.

Similar ordinances have been on the books for several decades, and this version is simply an update to those laws, said Vincent Miles, the utility’s environmental compliance supervisor. Miles said the EPA has already reviewed and approved the draft ordinance.

The local industries that would be affected are: Aramark, Arcelor, Central Moloney, Jefferson Regional Medical Center, Planters, Stant, Tyson, Union Pacific and Wheeling Machine, Miles said.

Johnson said the whole process is intended to keep pollution and heavy metals out of the city’s sewer system, the PBWU treatment ponds, Arkansas River and groundwater. If the city does not approve the EPA-required updates, major fines will follow, Johnson said.

In other business, the commission:

• Heard from Johnson that the utility’s income was down by about $20,000 in December because of a fire at Tyson that temporarily shut down production at the plant, reducing their water usage for the month, and down by about $8,000 because of the closure of a Department of Correction’s facility that is being moved to Malvern.

• And heard from Johnson that the utility has purchased a $30,000 pickup truck to replace one that was about 10 years old. The purchase was planned as part of the 2011 budget.