Keri Williamson, an engineer for the city’s Engineering and Public Works Department, talks about the damage at the Mayor Bill Overstreet Park utilities building on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. City waste water pumps were overwhelmed during last weekend’s storm and caused a backup of sewage into park’s building that housing the pumps and controls for the whale statue. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Keri Williamson, an engineer for the city’s Engineering and Public Works Department, talks about the damage at the Mayor Bill Overstreet Park utilities building on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. City waste water pumps were overwhelmed during last weekend’s storm and caused a backup of sewage into park’s building that housing the pumps and controls for the whale statue. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Juneau whale statue pumps to be repaired by spring, hopefully

Extraordinary rainfall volume last weekend flooded basement room

More than five inches of rain delivered in less than 24 hours last weekend washed out roads in Douglas, caused mudslides in Thane, buried trails in the Mendenhall Valley in debris, and at the center of all of these, flooded the underground machine room of the whale statue in Mayor Bill Overstreet Park with backed up sewage.

“We would like to have everything running by the spring,” City and Borough of Juneau Engineer Keri Williamson said.

The room was flooded by sewage backing up on the main line toward the Juneau-Douglas Treatment Facility. All sewage from Douglas as far north as the trailer park and on the mainland up to roughly Bartlett Regional Hospital feeds into the main sewage line, pumped through the Outer Drive Pumping Station across Egan Drive from Centennial Hall.

The wastewater pumps were overwelmed during last weekends storm and caused a backup of sewage into the Mayor Bill Overstreet Park utilities building. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The wastewater pumps were overwelmed during last weekends storm and caused a backup of sewage into the Mayor Bill Overstreet Park utilities building. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

“Nothing failed here, it just couldn’t keep up,” said Scott Simonson, a senior wastewater collection officer, speaking about the Outer Drive Pumping Station. “The day of the heavy rains, we had all three running. There was just so much rain coming in.”

[Update: Repairs underway on roads damage by mudslides]

The station, which descends three stories below street level, houses three pumps with a 3,200 gallon per minute capacity at peak operating capacity, pumping sewage to the Juneau-Douglas treatment plant across the harbor. Last weekend, that wasn’t enough.

“From Saturday at 9:30 till Monday at 9:30, we pumped 5,263,000 gallons,” said Otto Dunyaski, a senior wastewater collection officer.

Otto Dunayski, left, and Scott Simonson, senior wastewater collection officers for the city, inspect three pumps three-story underground at the Outer Drive Pumping Station downtown on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. The pumps were overwhelmed during last weekend’s storm that caused a backup of sewage into the Mayor Bill Overstreet Park utilities building. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Otto Dunayski, left, and Scott Simonson, senior wastewater collection officers for the city, inspect three pumps three-story underground at the Outer Drive Pumping Station downtown on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. The pumps were overwhelmed during last weekend’s storm that caused a backup of sewage into the Mayor Bill Overstreet Park utilities building. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

With the heavy rainfall, the wastewater line couldn’t keep up, and backed up, Dunyaski said. As a result of this, the machine room for the whale statue, located in a basement underneath the bathrooms adjacent to the statue itself, flooded with sewage and shorted out all the electric hardware in the machine room.

“It might have been a goof on the design, might have been a goof on the contractor, it might have been so much rain that it would’ve happened anyway,” said city manager Rorie Watt. “We had such peak rainfall that the sanitary system couldn’t keep up.”

Scott Simonson, a senior wastewater collection officers for the city, stands underneath an outgoing wastewater pipe at theOuter Drive Pumping Station downtown on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. The three pumps were overwhelmed during last weekend’s storm and caused a backup of sewage into the Mayor Bill Overstreet Park utilities building. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Scott Simonson, a senior wastewater collection officers for the city, stands underneath an outgoing wastewater pipe at theOuter Drive Pumping Station downtown on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. The three pumps were overwhelmed during last weekend’s storm and caused a backup of sewage into the Mayor Bill Overstreet Park utilities building. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

According to Williamson, the priority now is minimize follow-on damage.

“We need to get it cleaned, winterize it so we don’t have further damage, and restore heat to the building,” Williamson said.

Watt said the cost of repairs for the electronics and pumps damaged by the flooding could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Watt said that once the liability for the flooding is determined, either the city or contractor insurance will pay for repairs.


• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.


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