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Morristown River Road East sewer project units reporting problems

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MORRISTOWN — A $3.8 million sewer project completed last year has been plagued with problems, with residents finding their grinder units and septic lines frozen solid.

About 10 full-depth grinder units have frozen, backing up the septic system in camps and homes on River Road East, according to Kevin J. Crosby, village director of public works. Three other cases have involved frozen septic lines, flooded grinder units and electrical failures, Mr. Crosby said.

Of approximately 100 units installed in the joint village and town project, 21 have had documented problems, Mr. Crosby said.

“You just don’t expect to be working that much on a new system,” he said.

Town Supervisor Frank L. Putman said, “This isn’t acceptable the way things are.”

The full-depth grinders include a 150-gallon tank buried 7 feet underground – designed to be below the frost line – in which sewage is ground up and pumped along to the main sewer lines.

“They shouldn’t be freezing,” Mr. Crosby said. “If you repeatedly freeze a plastic line, it’s going to break eventually.”

Among the property owners affected is Kevin Jaeger, who owns a camp at 461 River Road East. Mr. Jaeger, who lives in Dryden, spends his summers in Morristown and returned Friday to open his camp.

He arrived to find a backed-up septic system.

Septic systems can be winterized by draining them and adding antifreeze. But Mr. Jaeger, like other summer residents, was gone before the grinders were fully installed. Instructions on how to winterize the units weren’t sent out until December, Mr. Crosby said.

He said the contractor that oversaw the project, North Country Contractors, Henderson, has been helpful in addressing the problems, making frequent trips to thaw units.

“I don’t believe that they were installed improperly,” Mr. Crosby said. “They were installed to the engineer’s specs.”

The town plans to meet this week with the project engineers, C2AE, Canton, to discuss the situation.

Mr. Putman said the town will explore just how much of the problem is a result of engineering flaws.

Timothy A. Burley, partner at C2AE, supervised the engineering of the River Road East sewer project and said the issues may stem from inadequate ventilation.

“We may have to do something to the venting to limit the amount of air getting drawn across and through the tank,” Mr. Burley said.

He said his firm engineered the installation of the grinders according to the specifications of manufacturer E/One Sewer Systems.

“As they unthaw we’re planning on doing a full inspection,” he said.

Mr. Burley said units that were installed at shallower depths and winterized did not freeze.

“We just hadn’t planned on winterizing some of the full-size ones,” Mr. Burley said.

Because the project’s contracting warranty is up in August, the town and village will be on the hook for any additional work that has to be done to the system after that point.

Mr. Crosby said the date of the warranty’s expiration means officials won’t really know if the problems have been solved until well afterward – probably next spring.

Each grinder costs about $2,500, so if multiple grinders have to be repaired next spring, repair could be costly, Mr. Crosby said.

“We’re just trying to get everything straightened out,” he said.

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