LENOX -- Two pumps that failed over the weekend at the town’s wastewater pumping station on New Lenox Road went back on line early Tuesday afternoon following an unexplained weekend discharge -- which was quickly contained, according to Public Works Superintendent Sean VanDeusen.

The discharged wastewater never came anywhere near the Housatonic River, he emphasized. The pump station, opened 18 months ago, is about 950 feet from the nearest riverbank, separated by woods and a sandy, gravelly open field.

According to Mike LaBonty of I & C Systems Engineering in Scarborough, Maine, an investigation is continuing into the causes of two breakdowns on Saturday -- the two pumps at the station and the alarm system designed to alert town officials of any problems.

"It looks like an electrical problem," Labonty said as he continued to work at the site on Tuesday afternoon. I & C Systems had been hired to perform systems integration at the new pump station last year.

"We have a very sophisticated, state-of-the-art alarm system used by oil refineries," VanDeusen said. The alarm failure is being probed jointly with Berkshire Communicators, the Pittsfield firm that monitors the system, he added. That company has pinpointed the glitch to a transfer box, and troubleshooting was continuing on Tuesday.

"We did everything possible to minimize any environmental damage around the pump station," VanDeusen stressed. The site is near a wildlife management area.

He notified the state Department of Environmental Protection hot line within 90 minutes after the discharge was discovered on Sunday during a routine daily inspection conducted by town employees.

The DEP acknowledged the notification but took no action, said Jeffrey Vincent, co-interim town manager and former public works superintendent.

"It’s certainly a substantial event, not pleasant for any of us to deal with," he acknowledged. No specific cause of the spill has been identified, nor is there any final explanation yet of why the alarm system failed to activate in order to immediately notify town officials.

The discharge began on Saturday, he said. "It appeared to be some sort of electrical problem, a power blip or surge, but something catastrophically failed," he declared. VanDeusen speculated that a townwide power blip a week before the incident might have played a role.

At midday on Sunday, right after the spill was discovered, the town deployed three septic-hauling trucks to pump wastewater from the plant’s 30-foot-deep wet well, and transport it to a proper disposal site -- first, the wastewater treatment plant in Pittsfield and then the town’s plant on Crystal Street in Lenox Dale.

The trucks continued hauling wastewater until a large portable bypass pump rented by the town was installed and activated at 9 p.m. Sunday, Vincent stated. It operated the plant until the pumps that had failed were reactivated shortly after noon on Tuesday.

"It would be very unusual for both sets of pumps to fail at the same time," he noted, "so we have to think it was the electronic controls. Right now, it’s all just guesswork."

The breakdown is "certainly concerning and expensive for the town," Vincent said. "It’s unfortunate, these things happen. We have three pump stations and any one of them could go. It will be interesting when we find out the cause."

The plant’s engineering and design was performed by Weston & Sampson, a specialized wastewater plant consulting firm in Peabody.

Vincent said the plant installation is beyond the one-year warranty period.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto