Alert Surveyors Prevent Smelly Situation in Sterling

Mark Derowitsch

February 03, 2020

A pair of observant surveyors from Olsson averted what could have been a malodorous, costly situation for the Village of Sterling, Nebraska.

Mark Vogel and Zach Leffler, members of Olsson’s Lincoln Survey Team, were checking out the Locust Street bridge in Sterling, which suffered flood damage last spring and needed to be replaced. The two were surveying the elevation of a sanitary inverts when they suspected something was amiss with the sewer system.

Mark checked a manhole near the bridge and discovered it was filled with sewage.

“Lucky timing” is how Justin Stark described it. The team leader of Olsson’s Nebraska Water/Wastewater Team said if the surveyors hadn’t suspected something was awry, it could have caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage to nearby homes from sewer backups.

“Thankfully, Mark reached out to me right away,” Justin said.

Another stroke of luck? Justin was in a meeting with the design team when he took the call from Mark. He had experts right at his fingertips, and the team immediately turned its attention to the urgent situation in Sterling.

The team had Mark check out another manhole (it was backed up, too). Emily Bausch suggested the lift station may be responsible. The team contacted the village right away, which discovered the sewage pumps were not functioning properly at the wastewater lagoons south of town. This inability to move the wastewater out of the lift station into the lagoons caused the system backup.

The pumps were turned back on, and soon the system was working again.

“If we had not been there, it would have continued to back up and the village would have had bigger problems,” Justin said.  

The bridge crosses a small creek that feeds into the Big Nemaha River on the south edge of Sterling. It was damaged during the spring 2019 floods in Nebraska to the extent that it needed to be replaced.

Brian Schuele, a project engineer at Olsson, said design is underway for the new bridge and construction is expected in 2020. The project will be funded in part through disaster relief funds administrated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Olsson serves as the village engineer and street superintendent and is designing the replacement bridge.

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