, Salem, MA

October 9, 2013

Sewage pipe emergency in Salem Harbor


---- — SALEM — Two large iron pipes under Salem Harbor that carry raw sewage from Marblehead to the Salem treatment facility are severely corroded and need to be replaced immediately.

One of the mile-long pipes had to be repaired several months ago when it sprang a leak, and the other is showing serious signs of deterioration.

Alan Taubert Jr., executive director of the South Essex Sewerage District, said he is seeking “emergency” approvals to install high-density polyethylene pipes before either of the old pipes fails.

“This leak told us that they have reached the end of their useful life,” he said.

The cost of replacing the pipes is estimated at $20 million, a bill that will go to the Town of Marblehead, according to Taubert.

The project requires permits and approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state agencies. If all goes well, Taubert said he hopes to have the project completed by early next year.

Taubert said he has spoken to the Army Corps and other agencies about fast-tracking the project.

“They are all going to do what they can to expedite this,” he said. “Within 60 to 90 days, I’m hoping I can get the permits.”

This pipe crisis began in March when a lobsterman spotted an unusual amount of bird activity near the shore in Marblehead. Divers found a small breach in one of the ductile iron pipes that carry sewage from Marblehead to the SESD plant, which is located on Fort Avenue along the Salem waterfront.

That repair proved more extensive than expected due to the poor condition of the pipe. At a cost of $300,000, it also proved more expensive.

Consultants from Parsons Brinckerhoff examined both pipes using divers and underwater cameras. The news was not good.

“The report said they are in a severe state of corrosion and need to be replaced immediately,” Taubert said. “We didn’t find any other leaks, but we’re on borrowed time.”

The Army Corps of Engineers issued a news release this week seeking public comment on the proposed construction. The pipes will be laid under Salem Harbor and under the federal navigation channel, extending from the SESD plant on Fort Avenue to Marblehead property on Stamski Way.

The old pipelines will be abandoned in place once the new pipes are installed, the release said.

Dredging and excavation will impact 150,000 square feet of “essential fish habitat.” However, the Army Corps made a preliminary determination that the adverse impact “will not be substantial.”

The 20-inch and 24-inch pipes were installed in 1977, when Marblehead joined the SESD, a regional agency that also treats sewage from Salem, Beverly, Peabody and Danvers. The pipes were expected to last at least another 10 years, Taubert said.

“It kind of caught us all by surprise,” he said.

Tom Dalton can be reached at