Storms caused thousands of gallons of sewer backup in Lycoming County Courthouse

WILLIAMSPORT – A decades-long sewer and rainwater leak at the Lycoming County Courthouse required an emergency fix recently with over 1,000 gallons of sewage backing into the building’s basement after each major storm hit the region. 

“Whenever you get a real heavy downpour, the sewer just can’t handle it all,” said Ken George, maintenance director for the courthouse. 

George began working at the courthouse in 1995 and said the problem was happening back then, but he suspects it’s been around even longer. Since then, he recalls a leak happening about once a year. 

The issue increased to drastic levels this year, with major flooding during each large storm that hit the region. George said he and his maintenance crew, who are located in the basement, had to clean and dissipate the flow during each storm. 

This meant directing the back-flow of rainwater and sewage down the rear elevator shaft and and disinfecting the entire area. Some storms brought in over 1,000 gallons of fluid and other material, George said.

The flooding stems from a broken gate valve and old pipes, George said. The sewer system’s gate valve, which allows sewage to leave the system but keeps out backflow, did not seal properly. To deal with the immediate issue, the county made an emergency gate valve purchase for $15,000.

The courthouse sits in a low section of the city, George said, which adds to the leaking issue. It also uses a mixed system, which means it mixes sewage and rainwater, causing extreme rain to overload the system at a much higher rate. 

Michael Miller, executive director of the Williamsport Municipal Water and Sewer Authority, said the authority was contacted a few weeks ago about the issue. 

Miller said, to his knowledge, the authority was unaware of an ongoing sewer issue at the courthouse prior to this, however he added that he only began working for the authority within the last year. 

“We believe that replacing the gate valve should fix the problem from our end,” Miller said. 

Eric Smithgall, director of engineering at the authority, agreed that replacing the valve was the immediate fix to the system. He added that the sudden and turbulent nature of this year’s storms can be a reason why the system reached such an extreme state of overloading. 

Without a large storm to test the new gate valve, George can’t be positive that the problem has been completely fixed. He said, at this point, it’s a matter of waiting to see what the next storm brings. 

A permanent fix to the issue won’t happen until new sewer lines can be put in along Pine Street. This is dependent on the city’s East Third Street/Old City Gateway Revitalization project – a few blocks from the courthouse. During construction for that project the city plans to replace the sewer lines for the courthouse and surrounding businesses as well, Smithgall said.

Replacing that amount of sewer piping is an expensive undertaking, George added, and, until now, it hasn’t been a priority. 

Smithgall and Miller agreed that replacing the old system with new infrastructure will help the system in the long-run. 

The sewage leak hasn’t caused any long-term damage to the infrastructure, George said, but added that “the worst damage is to us who are down there cleaning up and disinfecting.”

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