HULL — Flooding at the wastewater treatment plant here forced officials to close local schools on Thursday, bring in emergency pumps, and send raw sewage into the Atlantic Ocean, state and town officials said.
Town Manager Philip E. Lemnios said operators reported at about 1 a.m. that an abnormally high volume of sewage water was coming into the basement, which has a 20-foot well to handle flooding.
Despite the well, the water overwhelmed the pumping abilities of the plant, which is operated by a private company, United Water, under contract with the town, Lemnios said.
A company spokeswoman referred questions to Hull officials.
Lemnios said eight large pumps were deployed to the plant to help get rid of the water. As he briefed reporters at the scene Thursday evening, water gushed out of one of those pumps into the ocean.
Lemnios said the pumps will remain in operation throughout the weekend and possibly into next week. He stressed, however, that the town’s drinking water supply has not been affected and that homeowners had not reported any backups as a result of the flooding.
Schools were closed on Thursday as a precaution but will open Friday, and there are no plans to close restaurants and businesses, Lemnios said. Residents, however, are being asked to limit their water use.
“Right now we’re in a very stable condition,” he said.
The plant was taken off line Thursday. Lemnios could not say when operations would return to normal.
Edmund Coletta, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said that “raw sewage is being pumped out into the ocean” until the plant is back on line.
He said the the sewage would be pumped through an existing outfall pipe, which ends well out at sea. The plant processes 1.7 million gallons daily, but with recent heavy rains and snow melt flowing through the system, the volume of raw sewage is expected to exceed that, Coletta said.
Lemnios said that operators hope to begin partial treatment of the sewage in the next day or two. The plant is located just past the Hull Yacht Club.
Lemnios said workers plan for excess water at the plant after heavy rains and snow, but the flooding on Thursday “was an amount of water that was well beyond any of our [prior] records.”
Officials have not pinpointed the cause of the flooding, Lemnios said. He said investigators hope to begin examining equipment at the plant on Friday morning to assess damage and determine whether any equipment failures, such as a breached pipe, may be to blame, Lemnios said.
Reggie Zimmerman, a spokesman for the state agency overseeing the Division of Marine Fisheries, said the division is monitoring the situation and will determine whether to suspend fishing in the area.
Lemnios said United has operated the plant for more than a decade, and the company has no record of any safety issues.
“They’ve been very good,” he said. “Water treatment [plants] are very, very heavily monitored.”
United, based in Harrington Park, N.J., operates in 21 states and runs more than 100 municipal water systems, according to the company’s website.