Penn Cove beach closed

When the tide is at just the right place and at just the right time, a slight bubbling can be seen in the water near the parking lot on Monroe Landing Road.

The bubbles are from a pipe that runs from the nearby Penn Cove Water and Sewer District’s waste water treatment facility. Normally, the effluent, as the treated waste water is called, exits the pipe approximately 950 feet off shore.

Thanks to a leak, however, a small amount of effluent is surfacing near the beach, forcing Island County Health Department to close the beach to shellfishing and swimming.

“Once we learned about (the leak,) we had to post at the beach,” said Richard Case, Island County Health Department physician. “It does pose somewhat of a risk.”

Case said that since the health department first learned of the leak more than a week ago, no reports of illness have been discovered. Case said people who gather shellfish in Penn Cove should make sure the shellfish are cooked thoroughly to avoid illness.

The waste water district serves approximately 175 homes in the area.

“We’re taking extra measures to ensure we have minimal bacteria in the effluent we’re putting out,” said Dean Thiem, waste water plant manager.

Thiem discovered the leak when he was doing a maintenance check of the line. Dye was run through the system to find where the end of the pipe was. He said he noticed some of the dye surfaced near the shore.

The district will replace a section of pipe approximately 200 feet long because the exact location of the leak is unknown, Thiem said.

“We didn’t find a specific spot where the effluent was on the beach,” Thiem said. “We’re looking at a repair to fix the known leak and the areas around the leak.”

Replacing the entire pipeline would cost approximately $500,000. This was the first problem with the pipeline since it was installed in 1964, Thiem said.

The district is triple-chlorinating the water to kill any bacteria that might be present after treating the sewage, Thiem said. The water is dechlorinated before it exits the plant to the cove.

Ian Jefferds, general manager at Penn Cove Shellfish Farms, said his mussel business has not been affected by the leak. State and local agencies had reassured him the water near the farm is safe, he said.

“The extra chlorination that they’re doing and the distance away keeps us safe,” Jefferds said.

Thiem said the plant is running well below the parameters for the bacteria levels specified in his permits.

The problem will not be fixed any time soon. Thiem said the procedure and cost of the repairs will not be known until next week. He said he does not expect the repairs to be completed until mid-September due to the equipment and permits necessary to do the fix.

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