Steamboat Springs When Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Director of Lift Maintenance Kurt Castor received a phone call last week from his stepbrother saying people in the northeastern Colorado city of Sterling were forbidden to flush their toilets because the flooding South Platte River had inundated pumps that served the city’s wastewater treatment plant, he thought he might be able to help.
Although Castor never has worked at a wastewater plant, he has firsthand experience dealing with the problems that develop with large electric motors like the ones that power Steamboat Ski Area’s chairlifts as well as its snowmaking pumps and compressors.
On the morning of Sept. 16 in Sterling, a city of 14,725, the South Platte had flooded the motors that power the headworks pumping station that moves untreated sewage through the treatment plant. That same morning, officials in Sterling issued the no-flush order, which extended beyond the prohibition of flushing toilets to include all domestic water use. That means no doing laundry or taking showers.
The city of Sterling began ordering portable toilets.
“My brother, Brett McEndaffer, called (Friday) and said everything in the town, including the hospital with the cancer treatment center, was shut down,” Castor said. “My brother is an extraordinary human being I really look up to. He worked until 3 a.m. fixing a blown headgate on the Pawnee Ditch to save the town of Merino.”
The Sterling Journal-Advocate quoted emergency officials in Sterling saying they could not repair the system until the river subsided: "We realize this is a huge inconvenience for the residents of Sterling, but the system has been shut down and high usage could result in residential and commercial sanitary sewer back-up conditions," said Bob Owens, Logan County emergency manager. "We are working as fast as we can to address the situation, but until the floodwater recedes and damage can be assessed, we are unable to start repair."
As the floodwaters continued to rise, city officials went as far as establishing a large Dumpster location where residents could bring bags of waste buffered with wood chips and kitty litter to deposit them.
Castor’s early impulse was that a Denver company, Integrated Power Services, that he and Ski Corp. rely heavily upon when they have a problem with a large motor could come to the aid of Sterling.
As the torrential rains continued into the week, city crews wearing hazmat suits attempted unsuccessfully to lay a floating pipe above the floodwaters to bypass the flooded sewer lines and allow the city to pump sewage into the treatment plant.
Castor surmised that the city’s pumps would need to be repaired and got in touch with manager Larry Tygart at Integrated Power Services. What he found out was that the company already was overwhelmed with repair jobs, but Castor was able to persuade them that the situation in Sterling was dire.
In the meantime, a concrete contractor and an electrician in Sterling succeeded in building a berm around the manhole that led to the pump station, allowing the motors to be pulled from their mounts.
Castor, driving a heavy stake bed truck, delivered the motors to Integrated Power Services, where one of them was dried out in a specialized oven and restarted.
The single motor was deemed sufficient to begin running the pump and put the treatment plant back in action.
Back in Sterling, Castor said, he waded through untreated sewage to help reinstall the motor and get the plant running again.
“It was quite an adventure," he said. “I threw up several times. For me, the extraordinary thing was the people I’m involved with who reached out to help the community. It was a big catastrophe.”
Sterling Public Works Director Jim Allen issued a statement Monday saying, "Due to tremendous efforts at the headworks facility last night, the no flush, limited water use order for the city of Sterling has been officially lifted.”
Castor’s boss at Ski Corp., Vice President of Mountain Operations Doug Allen, said he’s come to expect unselfish behavior from one of his most dependable employees.
“He’s always been an outstanding employee, and he’s always been very talented,” Allen said. “Extraordinary people do extraordinary things.”
Castor, who stays busy maintaining the power plant at Stagecoach Reservoir and also works on maintenance of Yamcolo Reservoir, shrugged off the praise.
“I’m not that smart a guy, but I have a lot of phone numbers,” he said.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1
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