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New city sewer work blocks campus traffic

Marcela Berrios | Thursday, November 9, 2006

Drivers and pedestrians traveling between the west end of Saint Mary’s Lake and Douglas Road will be inconvenienced this week, as massive construction developments have forced Saint Mary’s Road to close at Indiana 933.

They may, however, feel better knowing that the digging is all part of Notre Dame’s plan to construct a sewer system that will transport sanitary sewage from the campus directly to the county’s processing plant – no longer relying on South Bend pipelines as its distributors, and helping the city considerably reduce its sewer overflows.

Paul Kempf, the director of Utilities in the Notre Dame Office of Business Operations, explained the reasoning behind the construction decision.

“After over 50 years of use the original trunk sewer connection to the POTW [Publicly Owned Treatment Works] is nearing its capacity, and the current project will replace the existing trunk sewer with a larger trunk sewer to handle future growth of the University of Notre Dame,” Kempf said.

In the past, Notre Dame sanitary sewage was channeled into South Bend’s main intercepting sewage pipelines – where it mixed with the city’s storm waters and sewage – before reaching the POTW, Kempf said.

However, during the wet seasons when severe storms added significant amounts of rain water to the system, Kempf said the POTW could not always handle the full flow of the city’s main sewer.

“In order to relieve this situation, overflows occur along the interceptor sewer,” Kempf said. “These overflows are principally storm water mixed with a small percentage of sanitary sewage, and the overflows in South Bend’s case flow into the river.”

With these infrequent but serious overflows becoming an environmental concern, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management stepped in to mandate the improvement of the traditional sewage systems to eliminate the overflows, Kempf said.

South Bend then developed a Long Term Control Plan that will address the situation over time, beginning with the construction of a new system that will transport Notre Dame sanitary sewage – one of the POTW’s largest customers – directly to the POTW and reduce the stream coming from the city’s main sewage lines.

Construction of Notre Dame’s portion of the project – a collaboration between the University and South Bend – closed Saint Mary’s Road on Monday, which will not reopen until Friday. The entire project is scheduled for completion during the spring of 2007.

In the meantime, a pedestrian path has opened around the construction, through Fatima House property.

Motorists are advised to use the Douglas Road or Dorr Road entrances to the campus during these days.

Once the entire project is completed, the sewage line will head west across IN 933, through portions of the Saint Mary’s campus, then north along the Indiana Toll Road Interchange, west across farmland belonging to the Sisters of Holy Cross and

under the St. Joseph River before arriving at the POTW, Kempf said.

Since its inception in the 1950s, the POTW has treated waste from the South Bend sewer system – which is principally a combined system that carries both storm waters and sanitary sewage.

Although Notre Dame has separate storm and sanitary sewer systems, the campus sanitary sewage alone is one of the biggest components in the city’s main line. And as the University only expects to grow in the coming years, the construction of its own connection to the POTW seemed appropriate.

“The new sewer has been sized to handle the long term growth plan of the University and should serve its needs for generations to come,” Kempf said.