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CHUUK’S SEWAGE, POWER PROBLEMS A TALL ORDER New team at utility company assessing multitude of problems

By Bill Jaynes WENO, Chuuk (Kaselehlie Press, June 6, 2011) - Vehicles often drive through it as it washes down the streets. Children sometimes are forced to wade through it on their way to and from school. The reek and inherent biohazard has sometimes driven families from their homes and its mere presence has forced temporary school closures. The problem of sewage handling has long been a problem in Weno. This is not new news.

"There are places in Chuuk that when you walk around it stinks; and one of the reasons is because the smell is coming from the sewage lines. Perhaps someone should take some of that water, go to CPUC's office and pour it on the office floor so your executives and employees can walk around in it like many children on Weno," an angry email delivered to Chuuk Public Utility Company’s Chief Executive Officer this weekend said. The citizen sent a copy of the email to The Kaselehlie Press. "I apologize if this ruffles feathers at CPUC, but my shoes smell of sewage water and I had to bathe with disinfectant yesterday," the email concluded.

"You are absolutely right to raise these issues," CPUC CEO Mark Waite responded. "I appreciate the contact."

The management team at the beleaguered utility company has been in place since October of 2010 with the mandate of turning the unprofitable and essentially unsuccessful utilities corporation into a viable business operation that meets the everyday utilities needs of its customers. The challenge is enormous and will not only involve investments of several million dollars in infrastructure but a reinvention of CPUC business practices.

It’s a tall order. The management team has been given two years to accomplish the task, or at least to set tracks that lead CPUC to a happy future destination for all of the citizens of Weno. So far the team is 8 months in and after spending six months evaluating the team has begun to lay those tracks in a proper direction.

"I understand your frustration to the apparent lack of action in relation to sewage management," Waite prefaced his return email that described for the concerned citizen CPUC’s action plans and challenges regarding the problem.

He said that during the management team’s evaluation phase which concluded in March they found that the sewage lines in the ‘Blue Lagoon’ area have been blocked for a very long time. To unblock them would require "specialist equipment" such as high pressure jetting hoses, air blowers and essential safety equipment for confined space entry for CPUC employees.

Certainly safety equipment is vital for CPUC employees. Methane gases can be deadly in high concentration such as can be found inside the confined spaces of sewers and cesspools.

Last week U.S. news sources reported the deaths of a teenager who had fallen into a cesspool along with another teen who attempted to rescue the first by lowering himself into the cesspool. Both lost consciousness within moments after entering that confined space filled with methane gas.

Waite said that in March, after CPUC got confirmation of access to capital funds they ordered the necessary equipment. He said that the equipment should arrive sometime this month. Once it does CPUC will start to deal with the unblocking of the lines in the Blue Lagoon area as a high priority.

While the project in the Blue Lagoon area will kill off a serious and long term problem regarding waste management, power is still an issue and it affects the management of "lift stations." Lift stations are electrically powered pumping centers designed to move sewage through the pipes when gravity can’t do it due to elevations. Fluids cannot pump themselves uphill.

"As you probably know, we have to ration power supply along the feeder to Blue Lagoon and the feeder to out past the airport to Sapuk. This means that we can’t exhaust our lift stations when we should," Waite wrote.

He said that CPUC has crews on duty every day to pump sewage through the system. The company has also ordered some automatic level switches that would automatically start when the fluid level reaches a certain point but those solutions will only consistently work when power is consistent in Weno.

A good start will be made on consistent power in Weno after new generators arrive. Currently delivery is expected on those generators by October of this year. If identified revenue collection problems have also been resolved by that time Chuuk power could be much more constant after those generators are installed.

Waite said that a third problem is that Weno’s sewer system is designed to handle sewage flow only. It can’t handle the additional strain of rain water that often comes in deluges. "Whenever there is rain we get infiltration into the sewer system, the volume of which is significantly higher than the designed flow of the sewer and it is principally this that causes water to bubble out of the manholes in the road," Waite wrote.

Waite said that another problem is that the sewage removal system also has sporadic problems with the road construction along which the new sewer system is following. Sometimes the process of construction damages the existing sewers. Additionally construction crews have to occasionally cut off the old sewer in order to make connections to the new sewer.

CPUC is "in pretty much constant touch with EPA responding to their demands to clear up the issues you raise," Waite responded to the concerned citizen’s email. He said that CPUC knows about the problems and is dealing with them as best and as quickly as they can. "We have plans in place to remove the problems and will do that as soon as we have the wherewithal."

Further email exchanges between Waite and the concerned citizen were congenial once information was shared.

CPUC’s Board of Directors received a copy of every email exchange though none of them made any comment on the thread of communication that we received.

Waite also copied the email stream to Mr. Bob Nelson who is working under a grant from the U.S. Department of Interior on behalf of the board and the State of Chuuk to assess the management team performance. "I'm sure he would be interested to hear your point of view on this and other issues," Waite wrote.

Waite agreed with the concerned citizen that while the CPUC management team had talked internally about how they should communicate their plans and progress with the citizens of Weno they had not yet addressed it properly.

That’s another tall order. CPUC’s options for communicating with the public are extremely limited as local media resources are nearly non-existent.

"Please feel free to print whatever you think is going on. We don’t have anything to hide," Waite wrote to The Kaselehlie Press.

The Kaselehlie Press © 2011 The Kaselehlie Press

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