Recent collapses of old brick piping downtown prompt change in inspection policy

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A month after two back-to-back collapses of old underground sewer pipes downtown that shut down busy intersections, the company that owns the infrastructure told state regulators it will make changes to its inspection schedule.

Citizens Energy Group’s top officials gathered before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission Friday afternoon to present the findings of a “rapid condition assessment” the company performed after the July sewer failures.

As a result of the assessment, officials said they will now inspect the sewer system downtown every five years, instead of every 10 years.

The concerns began on July 4, when a 100-year-old brick pipe collapsed under Ohio and Pennsylvania Streets, causing that intersection to be shut down for more than a week.

Then, just days after that intersection opened, inspectors found a collapsed brick manhole under Illinois and Maryland Streets, prompting them to shut that intersection down for three days, in the middle of the Indiana Black Expo’s Summer Celebration and a busy weekend downtown.

On Friday, Citizens officials said that the pipe at Ohio and Pennsylvania had been inspected in 2014 and tagged for repair, which would have occurred sometime before 2021.

Citizens Energy Group bought the city’s sewer and water systems in 2011, inheriting an aging system that averages more than 80 sewer failures per year and 500 water main breaks per year.

“We take these incidents very seriously,” President and CEO Jeffrey Harrison said.

The assessment Citizens conducted last month turned up no urgent repair needs, but did identify hundreds of manholes and sewer segments that needed maintenance or cleaning. The company expects to complete that work by September 1.

According to the company, downtown presents a particular challenge since many of the pipes are brick, laid prior to 1950. Company officials said they have spent between $15-20 million a year in sewer rehabilitation citywide, resulting in more than 80 miles of repair, but $150 million is still needed to address issues.

“Half of our system would be beyond what would be considered an engineering useful life. That doesn’t mean that the infrastructure is going to fail today, what it means is as it gets beyond that, it’s likely going to need some rehabilitation, some work, to continue that useful life of that material long term,” said Citizens’ Vice President of Water Operations Jeff Willman.

IURC commissioners asked questions at the hearing Friday, and the chairman said he was pleased with Citizens’ response to the problems.

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