City has 74 miles of pipe, 5,700 connections

A good sewer system is something many may take for granted.

“People don’t realize what it takes to get rid of it when they flush that commode or turn on that sink,” said Greg Henry, of Cayton Utilities and Plumbing. “They don’t know where it goes.”

And in Havelock, it goes into an aging piping system that is under almost constant maintenance. In 2015, the city spent $176,591 to repair and maintain its 74 miles of sewer lines and 5,700 sewer connections. Maintaining those lines and keeping the connections flowing is a monumental task, Henry said.

He points out that without a good sewer system, residents would not be able to wash dishes, do laundry or even drink water from the tap. After all, that water has to go somewhere.

“All that water ain’t just going in the ground out here. It’s coming out here to us,” said Henry, who has been repairing or replacing pipes under contract for the city of Havelock for at least 35 years.

The Cayton company is in the middle of a repair of 415 feet of 8-inch city sewer pipe in the parking lot of Westbrooke Shopping Center, and it’s no small job, Henry said.

The line being repaired is from 15 to 18 feet under the ground. It’s something the average person can’t begin to imaging repairing, he said.

“They ain’t gonna go down and fix this problem,” said Henry. “That’s why we’ve got six pumps out here trying to pump this sewer around us while we work, big pumps. It takes a lot to pump this sewer around. We got about eight or nine guys. We got two excavators, two back hoes, and a front-end loader. We’ve got plenty of equipment, four or five trucks, pumps, yeah, this ain’t no small deal. We’ve got a lot of equipment out here. It’s a major project to get that deep in the ground.”

Yet, it’s a fairly typical job for Havelock, like it is in most other cities, Henry said.

“The pipe’s old and deteriorated. It’s falling all to pieces,” he said. “That plastic gets brittle. The concrete’s brittle. It’s falling all apart. It’s all the same just about everywhere we go here in Havelock, and anywhere really. You go to New Bern, Morehead, they’ve all got the same problem.

“It’s an older kind of truss pipe that they used back in the day. They don’t even use it no more. It’s made of concrete and plastic. They’re just wore out. There ain’t nothing you can do but repair them. They got a lot of problems here in town.”

A new plastic PVC pipe is being installed as a replacement.

Havelock City Manager Frank Bottorff said the job would last another two weeks. As soon as the workers get finished, they are moving to another sewer line failure along the service road. That pipe fractured on Aug. 20 and released 12,000 gallons of untreated sewage into a ditch at the intersection of Catawba Road and U.S. 70.

“We do have a lot of sewer lines in the ground and some of them are incredibly old and that’s a challenge,” Havelock Mayor Will Lewis said. “Some of them are at a depth that we don’t even have an ability to check them externally but only internally with a camera, and then you are limited by the length of the camera and the quality of the picture that we can get from them.”

Lewis said the city has been proactive about trying to stay on top of the repairs in the last several years. He said repairs are cyclical, in that some years the city has many repairs while other years have few.

“I think moving forward we need to pay attention to where our lines are and I think we are doing a better job of tracking where the repairs need to be done and also where the failures have happened, said Lewis. “Everybody on our board and everybody on our staff inherited those pipes, so without some type of database that’s telling us that we have failures in this part of the city or in this type of pipe, we don’t necessarily know what to look for until you have a failure, so I think we’re doing a little better job at tracking that and trying to be more proactive.

“The lessons are that we need to do a better job of inventorying what we do have but at the end of the day, but no matter what we do, with the age of the infrastructure that we have in the ground, there will always be times where a large failure of a pipe will happen and we will have no way to know that it’s happening and proactively address that.”