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Crews work to clean up approximately 26,000 gallons of sewage that spilled onto the beach at the end of Nelchena Street recently.

On July 17, a city of Cannon Beach wastewater pump station failed resulting in an estimated 26,000 gallons of sewage flowing onto the beach at the end of Nelchena Street.

The city’s Ecola and Matanuska pump stations failed, but since the Ecola was in bypass mode while the city made improvements, only the Matanuska pump overflowed, according to the city’s report.

The spill did not get into the ocean water because it “did not meet the tide level,” the city press release states. The city removed an amount of sand from the spill area and took it to a “secure uninhabited city-owned property site for handling. Barricades and caution tape were placed around the circumference of the affected area, as well as sandwich boards with signs indicating “WARNING: Contaminated Drainage – Do Not Enter”.

“The initial cause (of the overflow) was associated with air pressure damage experienced in a panel that controls the bubbler system, which also controls some of the key elements of the flow levels that act as the indicator and warning that ultimately trigger alert notices to city staff,” the release states. “Additional discoveries of malfunctioning floats, as well as malfunctions in the auto dialer system were also discovered and contributed to the ultimate overflow condition.”

City Public Works Director Karen La Bonte told the Gazette on Monday Aug. 3,  that “it began with human error that led to the chain of events which exposed other malfunctioning aspects of the pump station we already knew were challenged due to age, and have been pursuing funding to address. That is why we’ve pursued grant dollars, low interest loans and other funding sources outside of raising utility rates again. However, a rate adjustment is inevitable to address what must be dealt with to bring this and numerous other pump stations up to date on the technology that controls every aspect of its operation.”

“The spill occurred after low tide, which was -0.1ft that morning, but before high tide, which was 6.4ft,” the city press release states. “Based on the low tide conditions at the time of the spill (approximately 10 a.m.), it was confirmed the spill did not meet the tide level. All clean-up was completed prior to high tide.”

The city’s report states: “At 10:16 a.m., the Matanuska Lift Station (the second lift station) auto dialer called the City of Cannon Beach’s dedicated emergency wastewater call-out phone. The call was for a high flow condition.”

“By noon, the bubbler system was back in service and operating both pumps in the auto position,” the report states. “The next several hours were spent troubleshooting the reason for the bubbler system failure.

“Validation that an overflow had in fact occurred was not realized until around 4 p.m. that afternoon when a call was received by the Public Works Director from a resident who lives in the area. The resident reported that he had walked on the beach that morning about 10 a.m. and had noticed water coming from the southernmost outfall and wanted to be sure the director knew about it. The resident also noted that the water from the outfall overflow had not reached the point where it interacted with the tide.

“After receiving the call, the director and assistant Director immediately returned to the site for another visual inspection of the area. The morning fog had lifted, and the sun had significantly evaporated the wet conditions seen earlier that morning. Signs that a spill had occurred were present as the sun had dried the area out and debris from the lift station had become visible.

“Visual signs of tiny shards of toilet tissue remnants could be seen around the area, confirming a spill had occurred, and the approximate limits of its flow.

“The public works director immediately notified the city manager and contacted the Oregon Emergency Response System…”

The report also states: “28 truckloads of sand (roughly 400 cubic yards) were removed from the beach and taken to an area we could isolate east of  101 referred to as the Southwind-Tango Acres. This site has been used in the past for excavation spoils. Additional cautionary signage was posted at the locked gate entrance of this area to advise of the potentially contaminated materials and to not enter.

“The material was spread out (as instructed by DEQ), allowing it to completely dry out and be treated from the sun/UV exposure. During the week of July 26th, additional measures were taken to place organic materials around the perimeter of the potentially contaminated materials site to ensure contaminant run-off could not occur should we experience rainy conditions.

“All signage on the beach, as well as at the materials site location, will remain in place for several more weeks.”

La Bonte also said: “As far as further sanitation, the natural UV sun is the best course of treatment in a spill situation in addition to the salt water when tides finally shift to the high tide schedule.  DEQ and OPRD will instruct us if they feel further clean-up is in order. As of now, they are comfortable in the actions we’ve taken.”


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