Maumee River Flooding Prompts Health Concerns As Maumee City Council Calls Emergency Meeting

Looking westward on the towpath, the Maumee River is shown on the left and the floodplain is depicted on the right. Last Friday, the Maumee River breached the towpath and quickly flooded a portion of the floodplain, knocking the temporary sanitary sewage pump out of action for the weekend. MIRROR PHOTOS BY MIKE McCARTHY
Construction has been delayed on the new Elizabeth Street Pump Station, located in the floodplain below East Harrison and Elizabeth streets. The $1.2 million project has been temporarily halted due to supply chain shortages for the parts necessary to complete the project.

BY MIKE McCARTHY | MIRROR EDITOR — Maumee City Council was called to an emergency meeting last Friday evening following a series of potentially hazardous events caused by rapid flooding of the Maumee River, which if left unchecked could have caused significant damage to the health and property of many Maumee residents, as well as to the city’s sewer system.

Officials in the Maumee Sewer Division became concerned on Friday afternoon as a massive amount of water from the rapidly rising Maumee River poured over the towpath and into the floodplain below the hillside along the 300 block of East Harrison Street, overwhelming the temporary sewage pump at the Elizabeth Street Pump Station, rendering it virtually useless. 

The temporary pump has been in place in the floodplain near the Elizabeth Street station for the past few months as the facility undergoes a major overhaul. Progress on the $1.2 million project has been slowed in recent weeks due to supply chain shortages. Some of the components necessary to finish the project are on backorder.

The pump’s purpose is to transport raw sewage from the interceptor line, which flows on city property parallel to the towpath from Ford Street to Elizabeth Street.

The interceptor line, which is 12 inches in diameter, collects sewage from the houses along East and West Harrison streets. Once collected, the Elizabeth Street pump lifts the sewage to a manhole at the intersection of Elizabeth and East Broadway streets, where it is then gravity-fed to the Key Street Pumping Station. There, the sewage is lifted to manholes in front of the Key Street station and gravity-fed through the system to the treatment facility on River Road.

When the temporary pump became overrun with river water on Friday afternoon, the pump could no longer perform its function and it was determined that it should be shut down immediately before it became permanently damaged.

“The pump was immersed in water and was pumping river water into the sanitary sewer system,” said Joe Mikolajczyk, superintendent of the Maumee Sewer Division.

The continued pumping of river water into the system could have resulted in serious consequences for many Maumee residents.

“Our first and foremost concern is the public safety and property safety of our citizens,” said Matt Miles, capital projects manager for the city of Maumee. “If we continued to pump river water into the Key Street pumping station, the sanitary system could become overwhelmed and cause flooding in the basements of residents.”

A secondary concern was the added risk of equipment wear and tear at the Key Street station, according to both men.

“A third concern was that if we kept pumping river water through the system, the city was going to be billed for treating river water instead of sewage,” noted Mikolajczyk.

Once the temporary pump was shut down, the sewage had nowhere to go but into the river. Mikolajczyk explained that it was impossible to treat the sewage under the circumstances because you would essentially have to drain the entire river to do so.

Once it was determined to shut off the Elizabeth Street temporary pump, Maumee city administrator Patrick Burtch notified the Ohio EPA of the situation, and the emergency meeting of Maumee City Council was called at 6:00 p.m. on Friday.

The meeting was convened at 6:18 p.m. and the mayor and all council members were represented in person or via conference call. 

Mayor Richard Carr explained that the emergency meeting was called in order to inform council of the gravity of the situation and to ask council to grant the mayor and the city administrator the authority to take whatever action was necessary in order to offset any possible acute public health risk or to help offset any potential property damage inflicted by the flooding.

Burtch presented a brief summary of events to the mayor and council, and then invited Mikolajczyk and Miles to offer their assessments of the situation.

The men concurred that shutting down the temporary pump was the proper thing to do under the circumstances. All three men noted that the recently installed flow meters provided a valuable service in alerting city officials of the crisis.

“The new meters the city is using to track overflows were instrumental in bringing this issue to our immediate attention,” said Mikolajczyk.

Once the information was presented by city officials, Maumee council member Margo Puffen-berger moved to “authorize the mayor and/or city administrator to take whatever steps deemed necessary to deal with the flooding of the Maumee River, and the failure of the pump at the Elizabeth Street Pump Station in order to offset an increased public health risk and/or offset property damage.”

The motion carried unanimously.

Puffenberger then moved “to authorize the mayor and/or city administrator to take whatever steps deemed necessary to deal with the flooding issues in the Maumee sanitary sewer system including but not limited to: continuing, ceasing or commencing sanitary pumping to offset an increased acute public health risk and/or offset property damage to residential, commercial and city property and equipment.” 

That motion also carried unanimously.

Following the meeting, Burtch mentioned that the city has made much progress dealing with its sewer issues, but that in the months to come, there are plans being made for much more to be done in addressing and fixing the city’s longstanding sewer problems. The city of Maumee is on pace to meet all Ohio EPA requirements in 2022, Burtch said.

Details of that progress will be readily available to Maumee residents on the city’s website and in The Mirror in coming weeks.

With the river water receding over the weekend, the temporary pump at the Elizabeth Street station was back on the job as of 1:00 p.m. on Monday afternoon.

The temporary sanitary sewage pump near the Elizabeth Street Pump Station was back in action as of 1:00 p.m. on Monday afternoon. The pump had been overwhelmed by Maumee River water last Friday afternoon and was shut down over the weekend as a safety precaution until it was determined that the river had receded to a safe level and no longer posed a threat.

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