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‘The situation is precarious.’ Sewage continues to spill after bypass attempt fails

Raw sewage is still flowing from a ruptured pipe under the Oleta River after emergency work to build a bypass failed late Thursday. The crack in the pipe grew. Contractors are racing to fix the leak that’s keeping Haulover Park and its popular sandbar, which attracts hundreds of boaters every weekend, off limits due to a no-swim advisory.

Five days after a leak was discovered on a 48-inch pipe that carries sewage from the Sunny Isles Beach area to the North District Wastewater Treatment Plant, Miami-Dade contractors weren’t able to install a plug that would isolate the broken pipe segment and allow for a bypass to be connected.

When workers removed debris from the spot where the pipe was ruptured, the hole got bigger. It expanded from about 1.5 inches by 2 inches, or roughly the size of a golf ball, to a hole measuring 2 inches by 3 inches, said Jennifer Messemer-Skold, spokeswoman for Miami-Dade’s Water and Sewer Department.

As of 7 p.m Thursday, an estimated 1.05 million gallons had spilled from the pipe since it was discovered on Sunday, the Water and Sewer Department said in a statement Friday. The pipe is more than 12 feet below the water’s surface.

The county said the sewer line cannot be shut down because that would halt water services for thousands of people in nearby cities. Crews had planned to connect the sewage to a bypass and then work on a permanent fix to the pipe.

On Thursday night workers found that the access point where they were planning to close the sewage flow in order to connect the bypass pipe was too fragile. They were concerned that doing that repair could break the pipe at a new spot, so decided to stop and reassess their plan.

“We are not going back to the drawing board, but we need to stop and consider our options at this point,’’ she said. “We want to stop the leak as soon as possible, but the situation is precarious.”

To lower the amount of sewage flowing through the breached pipe, Miami-Dade asked residents of Northeast Dade to reduce water usage. Residents of North Miami, North Miami Beach, Aventura, Bal Harbour and Sunny Isles Beach were asked to cut down on showers, laundry, running the dishwasher, and other tasks using large amounts of water until the leak is stopped.

Workers were going to continue working Friday night on a plan for the bypass and to plug the rupture, but it’s unclear how long the repair will take, Messemer-Skold said.

Adding to the challenge is the fact that workers must work on repairs overnight, when water usage is low, because the pressure in the pipe is higher during the day.

A no-swim warning includes Maule Lake to the north and Haulover Beach and the Haulover Inlet to the south. The advisory covers beaches 500 feet north and south of the inlet, stopping at the mainland and eastern shores of the bay. Greynolds Park and Oleta River State Park are also covered by the warning. The advisory discourages people from swimming, fishing or traveling by boat in the area.

Testing in the affected areas showed that water was still at safe levels during the week, but the department didn’t provide details of the results.

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