Dunsmuir drivers might have noticed alterations in the asphalt on Dunsmuir Avenue north of the 800-foot bridge recently. Workers on heavy machinery gouge trenches in the middle of the street, pull out old clay sewer pipe, and replace with modern plastic tubing. The $5.8 million project to upgrade the city’s aging sewer system is well underway.

Dunsmuir drivers might have noticed alterations in the asphalt on Dunsmuir Avenue north of the 800-foot bridge recently. Workers on heavy machinery gouge trenches in the middle of the street, pull out old clay sewer pipe, and replace with modern plastic tubing. The $5.8 million project to upgrade the city’s aging sewer system is well underway.

Funding is provided by a combination grant and loan secured by the city spring last year. City Manager Brenda Bains announced at the May 17, 2012 meeting of the city council approval of a 75 percent forgiveness grant, which means that off the nearly $6 million expense, Dunsmuir will need to pay about $1.4 million.

Bains also said at the time that the city was able to demonstrate its ability to repay its part of the loan because of sewer rate increases enacted in 2010 and 2011.

Today, the project is being worked at both ends of town at the same time. Dunsmuir Avenue will be dug up further to the north, according to R.A. Martin Constructors owner Randy Martin. Less visible to the public, the sewer treatment plant south of town is undergoing a major upgrade.

Martin said his part of the project began about a month ago in Tauhindali Park. Workers worked their way up the road west and around the corner to Stagecoach Street. They reached Dunsmuir Avenue alongside the Chevron station last week, a bit behind schedule.

“We ran into some rock around the corner,” he said Monday, pointing toward Stagecoach Street. “We’re going to make it up the road here. I’m hoping we’re done by the end of October.”

He said the work on Dunsmuir Avenue will continue northward about 1,600 feet past the Siskiyou Avenue overpass. He said there will also be some work in the residential area near Pioneer Street.

He said that along with replacement of old pipes, his crew will be rerouting some existing sewer mains, removing them from private properties and bringing them in line with Dunsmuir Avenue, “where they belong,” he said. “Back in the day there might not have been anything there,” he said of homes now standing over live sewer mains.

After the north end of the project reached Dunsmuir Avenue, traffic controllers were brought in to direct a delicate dance between northbound and southbound vehicle traffic, access and egress to and from the gas station, and backhoes and bulldozers occasionally crossing lanes. Drivers have had to stop and wait.

Martin said local drivers possess an unusual amount of patience. “I think Dunsmuir is a great place to work,” he said. “People are so understanding and friendly. And all the businesses have been great.

“A lot of the time with construction it’s hard to get in and out,” Martin said.

Never released sewage

into the river

A few miles south, Dunsmuir Public Works Supervisor Ron LaRue and Eric Marshall, a construction observer hired by PACE Engineering, sat together in an office at the Dunsmuir sewer treatment plant. LaRue said the plant upgrade underway will ensure that Dunsmuir will be able to comply with state water quality standards.

“Actually, we’ve always met the standards,” he said Monday. “But the state raised the standards.” He said the aging plant hadn’t been able to respond quickly enough to changes, resulting in fines by the California Water Quality Control Board.

“The constituents in the water are so miniscule, and they have the standards so close, so tight, that it’s nearly pure water,” he said. “And the state wants us to process 150,000 gallons per day and two-million at the same standard. In order to do that you have to increase capacity.”

He said the upgrade will give the Dunsmuir sewer treatment plant that capacity.

LaRue said the work being done up north will reduce leakage into the collection system, called inflow and infiltration. “That is water that is not supposed to be coming down here.”

He also said that the I&I has never overcome the capacity of the plant to the point where it polluted the river. “We’ve never been fined for having water come through with untreated sewage,” he said emphatically. “It never happened.”

Marshall said the river can exceed state water quality standards under extreme conditions, such as flooding.

“In those high-flow situations, when the plant is operating at maximum capacity, the plant effluent is frequently tested and found to be better than the water in the river,” Marshall said. “That’s because of runoff from the watershed that’s been contaminated upstream.”

He also said the standards apply only under normal conditions. “They make allowances during emergencies,” he said of state regulators.

Of his role as construction observer in the sewer project, Marshall said, “I’m looking to see that the project complies with the plans and specs that the engineers have designed and the funding agencies have approved. I make sure the funding agencies get what they paid for.”He said he keeps a diary, overseeing testing of completed work as the project progresses. He said he is responsible for vacuum testing manholes so ground water will not infiltrate, air testing pipeline to find any leaks in the pipe or loose joints, and he tests the roundness of pipe to ensure it passes the maximum possible amount of fluid.Asked how long it will take to upgrade the sewer treatment plant, Marshall paged to the project schedule in a loose leaf binder and noted, “Final completion date is July 15, 2014.”