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The town's popular Branford Point beach, shown here in June, is closed together with all public and private beaches in town due to the spill. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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Branford public and private beaches and fishing and shellfishing activities have been shut down today, July 8 and are expected to remain closed for the next two to three days due to 2.1 million gallons of raw sewage discharged into waters in the Mill River which entered Long Island Sound.
The Town of Branford issued a community notice on July 8 stating the Greater New Haven Waste Water Treatment Plant verified the huge discharge of untreated sewage, the fallout of which impacts the shoreline in the cities of West Haven, New Haven and the towns of East Haven and Branford. East Shore District Health Department (ESDHD) confirmed Branford's beaches and shellfishing are closed due to the sewage discharge.
A broken sewer line at a Hamden area site on Whitney Avenue is the source of the spill, according to New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, who spoke at a press conference at 11 a.m. on July 8. The sewage entered the Mill River and traveled into Long Island Sound.
"As a resident of New Haven and a neighbor of the Mill River, it's obviously very concerning that we had a pretty significant sewage leak into the Mill River," said Elicker, noting residents had reported dead fish in the river and a sheen on the water.
Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority (GNHWPCA) Director of Operations Gary Zurelack, who served as incident commander at the scene of the incident, said the break occured on Monday, July 6. He said GNHWPCA began receiving calls at approximately 5 a.m. on July 6 reporting water running down the street on Whitney Avenue. Responding to the scene, crews discovered a "major collapse" of a 30 inch-line to the point which the collapse prevented flow and raw sewage came up on the ground. The line carries an average of about 3 million gallons per day, said Zurelack, who also described the incident as a "large event."
Zurelack said shutting off the line and setting up a bypass pump-around plan was made more difficult because the sewage entry point is at a higher location than its discharge point, with no manholes for access in the vincity. Crews brought in 1,200 feet of pipe to reach a manhole that accessed a gravity section of the line. The set up process was completed by 9:30 p.m. on July 6, but issues including surges due to excess air and overflow due to pump issues hindered complete close off of the flow. Zurelack said the pipe was completely closed at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, July 7. At that point, GNHWPCA calculated 2.1 million gallons of raw sewage had entered the Mill River. The sewage entered the Sound at New Haven Harbor, where the Quinnipiac River joins with the Sound.
Questions about the delay in notification were raised during the July 8 press conference. Elicker said the city was initially notifed about a small leak and didn't realize the extent of the problem until he was walking his dog in the Mill River area at 7 p.m. on July 7, at which point the driver and passengers of a car with a canoe on top of it stopped him on the road and said they'd seen dead fish and a sheen on the surface of Mill River. Elicker said he then put in a call to the GNHWPCA.
"There was a delay, and they are committed to fixing that," said Elicker of GNHWPCA.
Zurelack said GNHWPCA was involved in the "heat of the moment" in responding to the incident on July 6, with initial notification to the city being made by asking New Haven Public Works, there to arrange for road work at the scene, to notify the mayor's office of a "problem with the line."
Zurelack noted that protocols to improve communication are being reviewed.
"I don't think anybody was trying to minimize it," he said. "The magnitude of the situation needs to be clearly communicated."
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