MACHIAS — The local waste-water treatment plant returned to normal operations Wednesday after a Portland company replaced a drive panel that exploded as record rains pelted the area last weekend.
The panel that drives the plant’s raw sewage pumps had apparently been weakened by the on-again, off-again power that Machias experienced for days after the Jan. 8 ice storm, according to plant operator Walter Kilton.
Kilton said the panel blew up just after 7 a.m. Saturday. So much storm water was running into the facility that Kilton said he had to begin “bypassing” — dumping millions of gallons of untreated water into the Machias River.
On Monday the Department of Marine Resources closed the Machias and East Machias Rivers and Northwestern Machias Bay areas to shellfishing until samples indicate the water is no longer subject to pollution from the plant.
Paul Anderson, the director of DMR’s public health division, said last weekend’s rainfall also resulted in treatment plant failures in Castine and Freeport.
“I’ve never seen it rain so much for so long,” Kilton said. “I measured 6.31 inches of rain between Saturday and Monday morning. That’s the most I’ve seen in 17 years of recording.”
Kilton said he arrived at the treatment plant at 6 a.m. Saturday and had to reset the drive panel that powers the raw sewage pumps. One of the pumps was going down, and he had just reset the panel for the third time and returned to his office when he heard a crash.
Smoke and oil were pouring from the panel. For the rest of the weekend, he had to manually run the pumps, but could only use one pump at a time. Each pump can handle a little over 1 million gallons.
Kilton said the plant normally receives 300,000 gallons of water in a 24-hour period. He estimated that flows peaked at 2.8 million gallons during the weekend.
By Monday, the water had receded to the point that Kilton said he no longer needed to bypass the plant. On Tuesday, Stultz Electric of Portland replaced the panel. Kilton said the electrician from Stultz told him the panel had been weakened by fluctuating power.
Kilton said he’s been told that funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will cover the $3,500 cost of replacing the drive panel and the overtime that treatment plant workers put in last weekend.