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Damaged sewer line sends waste into storm drains

A corroded cast iron drainpipe leaked sewage from Wendy’s into a drainage ditch on Old Pittsboro Road. Photo by Kirk Ross

By Kirk Ross
Staff Writer

A corroded pipe that runs from Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers to the sanitary sewer underneath Greensboro Street leaked an as yet undetermined amount of sewage that found its way into storm drains and then to the drainage ditch that runs along Old Pittsboro Road and eventually connects to Morgan Creek.

Residents in the area started complaining about the smell earlier this month and in early November the town investigated a spill of oily, opaque water coming from the pipe.

After tracking down the source, officials say they’re confident they’ve found the problem and that Wendy’s is moving quickly to fix it. Meanwhile, a mobile containment system has been installed at the end of the storm drain where the problem was first discovered.

David Poythress, street superintendent for the town’s public works department, said the large green holding tank is taking in the mix of sewage and stormwater coming from the pipe out at South Greensboro Street and Old Pittsboro Road and is being pumped out as necessary. Wendy’s is covering the cost of the system, he said.

Poythress said after he investigated the foul smelling water in the ditch, the town contacted the Orange County Health Department and the Orange Water and Sewer Authority, which began testing on its lines. OWASA quickly determined that it was not the source of the leak.

After zeroing in on the Wendy’s site, the town got permission to run a dye test through Wendy’s drains. Poythress said once the green dye showed up at the pipe out, they knew the source of the problem.

Tom Konsler, environmental health director for the Orange County Health Department, said that after being alerted, Wendy’s started replacing its sewer lines and grease trap. The source was found near the sidewalk. “The problem was caused by a cast iron sewer line that had corroded,” Konsler said. Further investigation led to another leak beneath S. Greensboro Street; preparations are now being made for that repair.

It is common to see that kind of failure with iron, he said, because older, cast iron piping reacts with grease. Konsler said the bottom of the pipe had given way and sewage was leaking from it. “Some of that was flowing into the storm drain.”

Konsler said the county issued an intent to suspend Wendy’s operating permit, which would have shut the restaurant down if it didn’t respond within 30 days. While that’s standard procedure in such cases, Konsler said he’s confident the company would have corrected the problem very quickly regardless.

Rick Fink, divisional maintenance manager with Wendy’s International Inc., said while the location’s sewer system has been replaced, he is still testing the site to make sure all of the problems have been fixed. “We want to make certain no stone is unturned,” Fink said. After that, he said, the containment apparatus on Old Pittsboro Road will stay in place for a while to catch any residual runoff.

Konsler said that for now the health department is satisfied the spill will not result in any lingering health concerns. Any residual material, he said, will likely wash out in the next couple of rains.

Poythress said the next step for the town is a review of tests on the material to see if any remediation is required. He said the leak shows how difficult it can be to trace the source of faults in the town’s infrastructure. He noted that the source of a recent OWASA waterline leak was near the KFC on Main Street, but the water got into a BellSouth conduit and traveled downhill several blocks to the corner of Roberson and Maple streets before it surfaced in a ditch and was noticed.

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