Camera Trundles Its Way Through Falmouth's Main Street Sewer

GENE M. MARCHAND/ENTERPRISE - The remote camera with its light shining ahead (towards bottom of photo) before it heads off under Robbins Rd. At the base of each manhole the round sewer pipe is open at the top to allow access for maintenance.GENE M. MARCHAND/ENTERPRISE - Nathan Arruda of New Bedford uses a pole to lower a sewer inspection camera down a manhole on Robbins Road. Power and fiber optic cables encased in steel wire connect the camera with the viewing station inside the truck.

A sewer inspection crew working along Main Street this week used a remote controlled camera to tour the sewer line that runs from Stop & Shop to the downtown post office. 

“A-plus. Virtually perfect,” was the mid-way progress report delivered by camera technician Nathan Arruda of New Bedford.

Wednesday morning Mr. Arruda sat in his work truck on Falmouth Heights Road, watching the video feed from a sewer inspection camera crawling through the pipe below the street.

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Using a small control console, Mr. Arruda stopped the camera and swiveled the lens upward to look at a junction between the main line and a residential hook-up.

Water trickled down from the overhead pipe, joining the inch or two of flow under the camera’s wheels.

Amy A. Lowell, Falmouth’s assistant wastewater superintendent, looked over Mr. Arruda’s shoulder.

“This pipe is in good shape,” she said.

The inspection is being done to determine if the existing sewer infrastructure can handle the increase in flow expected with the addition of the Little Pond sewer system.

“We want to confirm the pipe capacity,” Ms. Lowell said.

Town Meeting approved funding for the construction of the Little Pond sewer system at town meeting Wednesday night. The sewer will service the Maravista and Falmouth Heights neighborhoods that flank Little Pond, and the Teaticket downtown area. Residents will vote the $41 million project up or down at the ballot in May. (The inspection is part of the sewer design process, money for which was approved at Town Meeting last spring.)

The sewer pipe along Main Street is 12-inch PVC piping that was installed in the 1980s.

Last year, the wastewater department inspected the clay sewer mains in Woods Hole, which were built in the late 1940s, Ms. Lowell said.
“Clay?” Mr. Arruda said, grimacing. “Clay pipes are a guessing game.”

Ms. Lowell said “the contrast is pretty dramatic” between these lines and the ones in Woods Hole, where “you can see roots coming in the cracks.”

The town’s Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan, also approved by town meeting Wednesday night, allocates $700,000 for pipe upgrades in Woods Hole.

The inspection camera can only go straight forward and backward. Once it reached a turn in the pipe, Mr. Arruda backed it up and hauled it out of the manhole.

The camera looks a bit like a small cannon, weighs 35 pounds, and costs $30,000.

Mr. Arruda hopped in his truck and drove the 300 feet down to the next manhole, which was in the middle of the intersection between Falmouth Heights Road and Robbins Road.

Mr. Arruda said he likes his job, which is easy work with a “good paycheck.”

“This fun part is trying not to impact traffic,” he said, parking his truck in the middle of the street. “It’s tough, people yelling at you.”

A woman in a white SUV sat frowning as patrolman Eric L. Kraus set out traffic cones around the manhole.

Had anyone from Mr. Arruda’s company, Traux, ever been struck on the job? “People, no. Equipment, yes. All the time.”

Mr. Arruda opened the manhole and spoke into a walkie talkie, directing a co-worker in a separate cleaning truck.

Prior to inspection, the pipes are cleaned with a water jet and debris is sucked out. So far, the crew has found mostly rags, sand, grease, and some rocks.

Mr. Arruda said the most unusual thing he ever encountered in a sewer was an eel, in a pipe near Harvard Square in Cambridge. “It lives in there,” he said. “He likes it, it’s comfortable.”

The sewer inspection work will continue into next week. Expect some traffic obstructions. 

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