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Melrose Street neighbourhood gets used to pipe work in infrastructure project

Sewer, storm line separation is part of a long-term project for City of Port Alberni
Astrid Johnson, owner of DRAW Gallery at the corner of Melrose Street and Eighth Avenue, looks out from her front porch to see all the equipment required for the City of Port Alberni’s infrastructure work. (SHAYNE MORROW/ Special to the AV News)


Special to the AV News

Residents in the area surrounding Melrose Street below 10th Avenue have been dealing with issues of traffic control, heavy equipment tearing up the roadway and sheer noise for the past few months. It’s the current phase of the City of Port Alberni’s project to separate storm and sewer lines in the neighbourhood.

Rob Dickinson is the city Director of Engineering for Public Works. Dickinson said many of the existing pipes in the Melrose Street network are old and in poor condition, and will have to be replaced. Others are still usable.

“We use the existing pipes as storm, because it is of higher capacity,” the explained. “The new pipe we are installing is actually the sanitary/sewer. Then we connect that to our pumping stations.”

Currently, rainwater collects with local sewage and flows across the harbour to the lagoon on the other side of the Somass River in a common drainage system. Partly due to the age of the system, in the event of major rainfall, sewage overflow at numerous sites along the harbour has become common.

READ MORE: City of Port Alberni gets serious about sewage with $65M infrastructure commitment

Artist Astrid Johnson works at home and operates DRAW Gallery in her house at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Melrose. From her front porch, she is looking directly at the massive collection of pipe, fittings and excavation equipment in the utility (or “Melrose”) park across the street.

Johnson said the crew started digging one block below her, at Sixth Avenue. That work took one week, then they moved up to her block.

“I figured it would take a week to do my block, then they would move on,” she said. “This is the third month now. It only took a week to do my block, but they’re still here. The street is still blocked off.”

But Johnson, like many nearby residents (including this reporter), has come to appreciate the positive aspects of the project. First of all, the fact that it is getting done. Secondly, that the workers are so considerate of residents.

“They’re great. They’re kind, they’re humorous — very nice,” she said. “They realize, in a way, that they are guests here — even though they’re doing a job they were hired to do. They’re not residents, but they’re very considerate of residents.”

Deliveries are typically accomplished on foot, and the crew is flexible about allowing access to vehicles.

“We want to assure residents that we are going to make sure the park is not being left as a mud-hole,” observed Ken Prentice of Koers Engineering, the general contractor. The work is being performed by Leuco Construction Inc., from Qualicum Beach.

Dickinson noted that the Melrose Street project will see about 1,200 metres of new pipe laid, at an initial cost of about $1.7 million. It is all part of the city’s goal to install a new sewage treatment capacity.

“Actually, we’re almost finished one — we have probably built 90 percent of it,” he said. “We have taken over the old Catalyst lagoon, which is four times the size of the old city lagoon,” he said. “To reach the current (water quality) standards, we are going to UV (use ultraviolet light treatment) the effluent after it’s gone through the lagoon.”

The treated water will be released through an outfall pipe 800 metres into the harbour. The site was selected following consultation with federal fisheries and local First Nations, Dickinson said.

Residents working on outside drainage will be required to twin their storm and sewer lines, although the pipes will probably hook up to the existing old line. Eventually, all homes will be required to twin their storm and sewer lines. But it’s going to take a long time, Dickinson warned.

“The city will be working on this for about another 50 years, at about $3 million a year.” That means installing about 1,500 metres of pipe per year, including one or two blocks per year on the Melrose Street network.

An excavator digs while a loader brings in the clean fill needed for the new trenches for sewer and water lines on Melrose Street in Port Alberni. (SHAYNE MORROW/ Special to the AV News)