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Hi-tech helping Erie County save high cost of sewer repairs

Erie County Sewerage Management

A sewer pipe project will start soon along Transit Road, near North French and County roads in Clarence. Erie County plans to use a new method that will cost much less and take much less time to complete.

Erie County's Sewerage Management Division has around 1,100 miles of sewer line, some of it old or worn or made of materials not used any more, like asbestos. There are constant repairs.

Traditionally, when a pipe was worn out, it was dug up and replaced. That's a project that can take a good chunk of a construction season, while homes and businesses serviced by that line are inconvenienced by no sewer service.

For the Transit Road project, however, operators are switching to what's called cured-in-place lining. Deputy Commissioner Joseph Fiegl said more and more repairs are handled that way.

"We are able to rehabilitate existing sanitary sewers with essentially a trenchless technology, meaning that you don't have to bring out excavating equipment. You don't have to dig it up. You don't have to incur the restoration costs that go along with that, the long disruption to the traveling public," he said.

Fiegl said you start with what looks like a giant sock.

"You insert that sock into the sewer and then you essentially inflate it," he said, "and you cure that liner through either hot water or with steam and then you have to have it in there for certain period of time at a certain temperature for that liner to cure. And then it's essentially like a very thin pipe within the pipe."

He said that plastic liner allows the asbestos in the concrete to be encapsulated and kept out of the environment, while TV cameras constantly threaded through the pipe make sure the work is done correctly.

Because the 24-inch pipe is made with a mix of concrete and asbestos, replacing the 2,600 feet of pipe would normally cost around $1,000 a foot, according to Fiegel, but some cured-in-place projects can cost as little as 10% of replacement.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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