BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — A Marblehead lobsterman heading out to his boat almost two weeks ago noticed what looked like soggy paper in the water. He also spotted an unusual amount of bird activity just offshore on that Sunday morning.
The two sightings were enough out of the ordinary for him to make a few phone calls. When Amy McHugh, Marblehead’s representative on the South Essex Sewerage District board, was notified, she alerted officials at the regional treatment plant.
A dive team was in the water the next day, March 4, and quickly found a small breach — about 1 inch wide and 4 inches long — in one of the two pipes that carry raw sewage from Marblehead to the SESD plant in Salem.
Within two hours, valves were closed at both the Marblehead and Salem ends of the 20-inch pipe. Since then, a second and larger pipe has handled all the waste from Marblehead, while the damaged pipe has remained closed.
This is the first break to one of these pipes in many years, according to Arthur Knight Jr., executive director of SESD.
Although an estimated 40,250 gallons of untreated sewage escaped from the pipe, it was not enough to raise health or environmental concerns, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“Given the amount of the leak, the size of that body of water and the ebb and flow of the tide ... it should be rebounding fairly quickly,” said Joe Ferson, a DEP spokesman.
Today or tomorrow, a barge is scheduled to move into position a few hundred feet off Stramski Park in Marblehead. Repair work is set to begin Monday, weather permitting, and be completed by the end of next week.
Knight said he hopes the repair will be a simple one, possibly requiring only the placement of a large clamp over the damaged section of pipe. If that doesn’t work, they may have to replace part of the pipe.
The DEP and Marblehead Conservation Commission both granted emergency approvals to make repairs.
The SESD plant on Fort Avenue, which is next to the Salem Harbor Station power plant, handles waste from Salem, Beverly, Peabody, Danvers and Marblehead.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.