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Durham Water Management pumping water from New Hope Creek tributary into sewer. Neighbors say work “concerning.”

Residents in two South Durham neighborhoods have seen Water Management workers, trucks and machinery roll through their streets since this past weekend.

The sound of machinery also continually rings through the air, the result of what has been set by the city on the bank of a tributary of New Hope Creek — a machinery that pumps water from the creek into the sewer, at all hours of the days and nights.

This is to clean up a purported sewage spill, but there are no signs — or smells — of a spill. And residents in the area say they have received little information from the city.

After a reporter contacted Water Management on Monday, a news release was issued saying the problem originated in the Trotter Ridge subdivision at 4217 Trotter Ridge Rd., where there was a “sewer overflow.”

“Approximately 1,000 gallons of wastewater flowed into an unnamed tributary of New Hope Creek. At this time, the cause of the blockage is unknown,” the city stated. “Staff were notified of the overflow at 3:20 p.m. and the blockage was cleared at 6:40 p.m.”

But when William Wahl, an elderly man, answered the door at 4217 Trotter Ridge on Monday, he said he has experienced no problems with drainage.

Additionally, Wahl said as the sound of machinery droned on, city workers have not spoken to him about any blockages or spills, or at all about the work being done.

“I just saw their vehicles out there,” he said, “and I figured they were doing something.”

Other residents in Trotter Ridge and neighboring King Charles Road said they were similarly given little information. Many were reluctant to be quoted, and wished to stay anonymous. 

A fire hydrant was left running in Trotter Ridge on Monday, and the front of many homes in both neighborhoods were dotted with construction flags.

A family on King Charles said they asked what the workers were doing and were told vaguely about a spill. City workers came to King Charles on Saturday night and stayed well into the night.

There were heightened fears about safety among the neighbors as a result. “It was concerning to us, because it was so late, and loud,” one woman said. 

Durham Water Management said on Monday this machinery on the bank of a tributary of New Hope Creek is pumping water from the creek into the sewer, to clean up a purported sewage spill. The machinery has been running since Saturday night. Video by Monica Chen
After first stating the sewage spill occurred at 4217 Trotter Ridge Rd., Water Management provided this map on Monday afternoon showing something different. Source: Durham Water Management
The site of the purported sewage spill on Monday by the Trotter Ridge subdivision. Photo by Monica Chen
Heavy machinery going through the woods on left deep marks in the trails. Photo by Monica Chen
A running fire hydrant in the Trotter Ridge subdivision on Monday. Photo by Monica Chen

Water Management Don Greeley did not respond to a request for comment this week. Spokesman Joe Lunne outlined what the workers have done.

“As part of our standard operating procedure, our teams dam the creek downstream of the spill, flush the creek, and then pump the untreated wastewater from the creek back into the sewer system to prevent it from moving downstream,” Lunne said in an e-mail.

Although Water Management had announced earlier that the location of the spill was at 4217 Trotter Ridge, near where the machinery was set up to pump water from a creek into a manhole, by Monday afternoon, that location had been changed. According to a map provided by the department, the site of the spill was now upstream by Yarmouth Place. When this discrepancy was pointed out, the department had little response.

“We have corrected the location of the overflow and contacted the state to update that information. Thank you for bringing that to our attention,” Lunne said.

That probably will do little to ease the concerns of residents in the area, who are still seeing city trucks arrive on their streets at all hours.

“They’ve been here three, four days,” one man on Yarmouth Place said, and wanted to remain anonymous.

“They were here Saturday afternoon. They left, then the trucks came back around 11:30 p.m., quietly,” he added.

When asked how a sewage spill can travel a corner and other bends of a narrow stream and tributary network before arriving at the spot where the pump was set up, Water Management had no real answer.

“There is an unnamed tributary of New Hope Creek just to the left of the overflow. It’s a faint blue line and is pretty small,” Lunne said. “That is where the overflow entered the waterway.”