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Provincetown sewer system restored after system failure

Empty seats were seen outside The Canteen, which was forced to close due to a sewage emergency in Provincetown.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Provincetown has restored service to a portion of the town’s sewer system that failed Thursday and forced the closure of a number of restaurants and food service businesses, Town Manager Alex Morse said.

“The Central Vacuum System has been restored” as of 6 p.m. Friday, Morse said in an e-mail.

“At this time, residential users can begin to gradually return to normal water use,” Morse said “We are requesting that sewer customers in the downtown area refrain from large water uses right away, such as laundry and dishwashers to ensure the stability of the system as it gets back online.”

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Morse said if the system remains stable overnight, restaurants and businesses can resume normal operations on Saturday morning, and the town will provide an update in the morning to confirm whether proprietors can open their doors.

“Thank you again for your patience and cooperation over the last 36 hours,” Morse said to those affected by the service disruption. “You have allowed our team to make the necessary repairs more quickly.”

The sewage emergency came as the Outer Cape vacation spot is slated to host Carnival Week, its massive summer festival expected to draw more than 100,000 visitors, beginning Sunday.

Morse said Friday afternoon that town officials were “in the process of developing recommendations for a return to normal operations over the next 12-16 hours.”

“At this time, we have determined that any restaurant or food service business in this service area needs to remained closed for the rest of the day, except for the sale of prepackaged, ready to eat food,” Morse said.

Vacuum sewer systems like the one being fixed in Provincetown use “differential air pressure” and gravity to quickly move sewage in a network of essentially empty pipes from collection pits, to a central collection tank, to the point of discharge, according to the website for Flovac, a major global supplier of the systems.

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In an earlier statement Thursday night, the town said that as of 9 p.m., workers had successfully brought 67 percent of structures and manholes back online; 63 percent of the total length of the system was back operating; 68 percent of total properties were functioning; and 80 percent of total flow had been reconnected.

The problems began earlier in the week, when a station that runs the sewer system for the downtown experienced electrical issues due to thunderstorms. The heavy rains “hampered our ability to make the necessary repairs,” Morse posted on Facebook Wednesday.

Emily Boynton, whose coffee shop on Commercial Street was closed during the emergency, said Thursday tourists come to town “en masse these days.”

“I’ve owned a home here for 35 years, I’ve never seen it this busy,” she said. “We are taxing this old town and testing its limits.”

On Thursday, Morse wrote that the town is working to help business owners.

“We encourage businesses to begin conversations with their insurance companies as we work to limit the duration of the disruption,” he wrote. “The Town will do everything it can to support businesses impacted by this disruption.”


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.