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Huge New Haven sewage spill leads to restrictions

Closing will last several days

EAST HAVEN, Conn. — Swimming, boating and fishing the Mill River in New Haven is being discouraged because of a massive sewage spill.

And, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker is upset that the city didn’t know how big it was until about a day and a half after the leak was discovered.

The Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority says a sewage pipe was due to be replaced on Whitney Avenue, near the New Haven/Hamden line Tuesday, but the project’s start date ended up being a day late.

"July 6 at 5 AM we received a call of water running down the street on Whitney Avenue," said Gary Zrelak, Operations Manager, for the WPCA.

That was Monday morning.

"The pipe corroded on the top, weakening it enough so that it could not support the weight above it." Zrelak said.

That caused a collapse, which caused a blockage in that sewage line which forced it out of the pipe and onto Whitney Avenue and into catch basins that feed the nearby Mill River to the tune of roughly 2 million gallons of sewage.

"I’ve actually visited the site and gotten some emails and calls from concerned residents about dead fish and a sheen on the water," said Elicker.

Until it’s determined sewage is not impacting the Mill River, or even New Haven Harbor, both East Haven and New Haven they are not permitting swimming at their beaches. They're also recommending against fishing in the river and the harbor.

"It’s crazy that it’s this late that I’m hearing about it," said Lamar Bowers, of West Haven, who was fishing in the harbor Wednesday afternoon. "I don’t know whose job it is to get the word out there, but they’ve got to do a better job."

On Thursday, West Haven announced they will be reopening there three miles of beach July 10. The water was tested earlier this week and the results were "within acceptable limits." 

“I just received the beach water results back from the samples we took yesterday after the sewage spill,” Health Director Maureen B. Lillis said. “All results are within acceptable limits, and the beaches can reopen Friday.”

Mayor Elicker says the city was notified on Monday about a small leak but didn’t receive word about it’s true magnitude until early Tuesday evening.

"There was a delay and I think that the Water Pollution Control Authority and the city are very committed to fixing that communication gap," Elicker said.

"We walk along the river every single day," said New Haven resident Kate Smith. "We used to canoe on the river, too."

She and her husband live right up the street from where the massive leak occurred.

"We got the overflow," said Kate's husband, Roger Smith. "We got the smell and, of course, constant noise because they’ve been working 24 hours a day to fix this thing."

However, Elicker emphasized that the sewage spill did nothing to compromise the quality of drinking water at New Haven.

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