While installing guardrails as part of a paving contract along U.S. 211, a Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) contractor broke sewer lines in two places west of Sperryville.
The sewer line damage was discovered some time after the project began, which VDOT spokesperson Stacy Londrey said this week was “on or about Nov. 1.” The ruptures were repaired by employees of the Rappahannock County Water and Sewer Authority, who reported that no discharge ran into the nearby Thornton River.
Both breaks were on the south side of 211, one at Acornbrook Lane near the old Emporium building, the other at Estes Mill Road.
In a required letter notifying the state Department of Environmental Quality of “unusual discharge from the Sperryville collection system main sewer pipeline,” RCWSA plant manager Pamela Parke described the discovery and subsequent efforts to repair the damage. At about 9 a.m. last Wednesday (Nov. 9), she wrote, “a staff member from VDOT informed RCWSA staff that the soil appeared to be wet at one of the posts where a new guard rail was installed along Lee Highway” by VDOT contractors A&P Services of Pisgah, North Carolina.
Parker also wrote that she and RCWSA plant operator Troy Jenkins Sr. immediately went to the site of the break at Acornbrook. They noticed that the soil “was reddish clay colored and wet,” according to the letter. “After excavating the area by hand it was confirmed that the guardrail post was inserted directly through” the main sewer line, she wrote.
In a subsequent phone call, Parker said she and Jenkins estimated that the break occurred three to five days before the Nov. 9 discovery. “We alerted the Hearthstone School and other septic tank owners that feed into the system about the break and requested that they conserve water,” said Parker. The RCWSA then had the septic tanks pumped as a precaution. The break was repaired the same day to stop the discharge.
Parker described the break at Estes Mill as “more urgent” because 12 to 14 septic tanks run into that section of the line. “No one told us about that break,” said Parker. “We were looking where the guardrail was being put in and noticed water” in this second location. That same day, Parker alerted owners of septic tanks that feed into the system and again had those tanks pumped out and the line repaired.
Despite an estimated 600 to 800 gallons of discharge into the soil, “there was no evidence that water was flowing downhill to towards the river,” says the letter to DEQ.
At present, it is unclear who’s responsible for the damage —VDOT, A&P Services or RCSWA. In an email to A&P Services, attorney Taylor Odom wrote A&P Services on behalf of RCWSA and said: “A&P Services, LLC must stop all guardrail construction in and around the village of Sperryville, Virginia. Particularly along Rt. 21. . . . A&P has violated and continues to violate the RCWSA easement through the construction of guardrails directly over and through the sewer line and the sewer easement causing effluent to be released outside of the sewer main line.”
A&P chief executive manager Amy Saunders dismissed Odom’s accusations, replied in an email to Odom that A&P had consulted Miss Utility, the organization that maintains records of underground utility lines. “We feel that the Rappahannock Sewer Authority was negligent by not notifying Miss Utility that they have sewer lines in the area.”
VDOT’s Londrey emailed: “Before work, A&P called Miss Utility and were issued clear tickets in all areas they were working. (I do not know why Miss Utility would not have record of the sewer lines; you would need to speak to RWSA or even Miss Utility about that.)”
RCSWA chair Alex Sharp acknowledged in a phone call that the authority was not registered with Miss Utility, but will be soon. “Our primary focus is to fix the leaks and minimize any damage,” he said. “This has never come up in all the years I’ve been [with the RCWSA].” Sharp joined the water and sewer authority in the late 1990s and has chaired the board for two years.
In the meantime, RCSWA plans to survey the entire stretch of the sewer line between the two breaks to make sure there are no additional breaks.