Cloudy water from a sewer break in the old line penetrates the preserve. A visitor called the police to alert them of the spillage.

By Jaimie Julia Winters

A woman enjoying a nature walk through the Alonzo F. Bonsal Preserve this past Sunday noticed a bad smell and cloudy water in the brook that runs through the property. She called Clifton Police, who found an old section of the sewer line that services Clifton and runs through the preserve had failed. It spilled sewage into the preserve and the Third River.

Sunday evening, as crews worked to repair the line, sewage flowed through a manhole located near the river.

In May, the town of Clifton began a year-long project to replace and relocate the 80-year-old sewer line, which had previously burst in 2001 and 2008. It was the older line that was compromised, according to Friends of Bonsal Preserve member Jonathan Grupper.

“In making the connection, while redirecting it under the river between the deepest part of the project and the shallowest part, they nicked [the old line], causing the rupture,” said Grupper.

Crews contained the spill, but had to clear a section of brush from the woods. Grupper said they believe the the sewage was leaking for about 24 hours.

“This was the toughest part of the project, so I think we have seen the worst of what can happen,” he said.

Clifton is replacing the line with a special technique called horizontal-directional drilling. Six 20-by-12-foot pits — three along the Montclair-Clifton border and three inside the preserve — will be dug down about 40 feet, allowing the piping to be installed through tunnels underground, minimizing the impact on the preserve, Clifton City Manager Dominick Villano said, when the project first began in May.

The line is being re-directed along the edge of Bonsal. Only six spots where pits are being placed will be impacted to varying degrees, mostly along the northern border of the preserve. After the sewer line is constructed, the pits will come down and be replaced with manholes.

“We’re grateful to the alert of the friend of the Bonsal Preserve who reported the incident,” said Grupper.  

Grupper said the Department of Environmental Protection had been notified by Clifton’s engineer, Neglia Engineering.

If visitors see something wrong at the preserve, Grupper said, they should call the local police or the DEP’s hotline, 877-WARNDEP.