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Great Lakes Article:

Series of accidents caused sewage spills
Duluth News Tribune

Western Lake Superior Sanitary District administrators Monday night laid out for their board members why two recent massive sewage overflows occurred, then discussed new plans to prevent the overflows from happening again.

The overflows were part of a series of six apparently unrelated mishaps and electrical, equipment and design failures that have sent more than 6.5 million of gallons of untreated sewage into the local environment since July 6.

"We've had a number of communications from people who are very angry with us," said WLSSD executive director Kurt Soderberg, who has called the string of accidents unprecedented and embarrassing.

Soderberg said WLSSD is now conducting numerous system upgrades and comprehensive reviews of current designs, maintenance and operations. It also expects to make long-term reconfigurations.

While the sanitary district hopes and plans for the overflows never to happen again, in reality, Soderberg warned that problems will always occur despite WLSSD's best efforts.

Monday's meeting at the WLSSD plant focused an internal review of a 564,000-gallon overflow on July 7 from a manhole outside the main sewage treatment plant on Courtland Street in Duluth, and the 1.1 million gallons that overflowed the next day in Scanlon.

According to the review, the July 7 overflow occurred when a rainstorm dumped between 1.2 and 3.7 inches of water into the system. A pump designed to help manage high-flow situations failed because a subcontractor had improperly installed its controls.

The review also said the July 8 incident was triggered by an unconfirmed electrical anomaly from Minnesota Power. Alarms didn't go off when the event sent controls to a backup system, then ventilation failed and it overheated and shut down.

WLSSD operation services manager Steve Johnsen said proud employees have been at the "anguishing task" of identifying the source of the problems, then working around the clock to fix them.

"It wasn't simply something went out and whose fault is it," Johnsen said.

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