Major Sewage Spill on Wilmington's Troubled NEI

Wilmington, NC – All day Sunday, there was little the city could do to keep raw sewage from gushing into Hewlett's Creek.

Low-flow alarms identified the sewer break Sunday morning, but because there is no back-up system for the Northeast Interceptor, the city had to put off repairs until after midnight Monday - when residents create the least amount of wastewater.

Instead, pumper trucks worked through the day to capture a portion of the spill, although Wilmington spokesperson Malissa Talbert estimated more was still flowing into Hewlett's Creek.

The break is located in a swampy wooded area behind pump station 34, west of Pine Grove Drive.

Talbert said that although the city had no immediate estimate of how much sewage has spilled from the pipe, they are considering this break "very significant." The NEI carries an average 4.5 million gallons of wastewater a day.

Three factors exacerbate the problem, according to Talbert: the broken pipe is 24-inches in diameter, the system's larger size; this portion is a pressurized force main, meaning the water is actually being pushed through the pipe; and the spill is very close to Hewlett's Creek, "which is a very environmentally sensitive area."

Wilmington recently completed a full assessment of the troubled N-E-I sewer line, but the portion containing Sunday's break was not identified as an area of concern.

Talbert says the assessment did involve sonar testing of the pipe in the general area around the spill, but that the city will want to know why particular location wasn't identified as a weak spot.

The Wilmington City Council votes Tuesday night on a 2.29 million dollar contract for repairs to the NEI's two pumping stations. This is the first contract in a series of slated repairs to the sewer line.