Episode 1 of THE OUTFALL LINE:
The site of the effluent outfall pipe rupture off the coast of California at Eureka.
I got a call from George Diefenbaker, one of the local paper mill engineers out at the Samoa peninsula at six a.m. It was a chilly Thursday morning in November. He excitedly told me, “The Coast Guard had discovered a major leak in our ocean outfall line. They reported it to the EPA and us yesterday afternoon. The EPA is sending an inspector up here from San Francisco. He will be here at noon. The mill manager is concerned that if we don’t come up with a plan immediately and implement it, the EPA will shut us down and hit us with a huge fine. This is not the first time we have had issues with them. Meet me at my office in an hour. We have to get a plan together and get started today.” Then he hung up before I could ask any questions.
When I arrived at the mill, a very nervous George led me down to the mill manager’s office and rolled out a plan drawing of the pipeline on the conference table. He pointed his bony finger at a spot a quarter of a mile west of the beach, where he believed the break was. When I asked him for elevations, he produced a profile drawing, which showed the top of the six-foot-diameter pipe. The break was two feet below the sea floor, and that would be four feet below that week’s lowest tide elevation.
George was under a lot of pressure to get this repair done, and he didn’t handle stress well. He stammered, “Jake, I have given your firm a lot of work here over the years, and now it’s payback time. He turned to Howard, the manager and asked him, “Can we divert the effluent to a holding pond for six hours?”
“Yes, I suppose so, what do you have in mind?”
“I want to shut the outfall valve at the property line and then have Jake and his crew enter the pipeline at the beach manhole. Once inside, they can drag their material and equipment the quarter of a mile down to the break, and make a quick patch from inside the pipe. They should be able to do that in under six hours.”
I looked at Howard, and we exchanged concerned glances. George said, “Are you okay with my plan, Jake?”
“I don’t know George, that sounds pretty risky. A lot of bad things could happen when we are inside that pipe under the sea, and the only way out is a quarter of a mile away.”
He angrily insisted that his plan was safe and the risks were minimal. He repeated, “You guys owe me one!” I glanced at Howard and back to George and said, “I’ll tell you what, if you agree to lead us into the pipe, down to the break, and stay with us until the last man is out of the pipe, I’ll ask my crew to do it. What do you say, George?”
“Damn it, Jake! Don’t play games with me. I’m an office guy, and I have no business doing something like that, and you know it.”
“I take it your answer is no.”
George was shaking and said, “You’re damn right, I won’t go in there! I want you to do this, that’s why you get the big bucks.”
Howard intervened and told George, “Step out of the room and give us a few minutes.”
When he left and slammed the door behind him, Howard said, “How would you repair it, Jake?”
I thought about it for several minutes. Then I flipped the drawing over and sketched out a safe but expensive solution. After I walked him through it, He said, “Okay, Jake. I’m not going to tell you how to do it. Just do it, and I’ll pay you whatever it costs. It’s got to be less than the EPA fine.” I gathered up the pipeline drawing, returned to my office and assigned the project to Max, one of my senior superintendents.
Howard called me about one o’clock and asked me to sit in on his meeting with the EPA, a Coast Guard Petty Officer, and George. After I explained my plan and answered their questions, the EPA and the Coast Guard seemed satisfied that we had a workable plan. The EPA inspector said they would give Howard forty-eight hours to get the operation underway. If he didn’t comply, they would rescind his discharge permit. That would shut down the mill. As he got up to leave, he said, “The Coast Guard would be monitoring your progress on my behalf.”
When I got back to my office and construction yard, which was down the street from the paper mill, my warehousemen were busy mobilizing, and loading tools, equipment, and materials onto trucks. Max was down at the beach setting up a construction yard and building a wood chip road out to the shore-break to keep our cranes, truck, and other equipment from sinking into the loose sand. My steel detailer followed me into the office and asked me to okay his drawing to fabricate a rigging structure over the pipeline. I looked it over, “Good job Junior, give it to Jason in the steel fab shop and tell him I want it done and loaded on a lowboy by noon tomorrow.”
Episode 2 of THE OUTFALL LINE:
I caught up with Max at the beach. It was a busy place. He had a bulldozer and a couple of laborers pushing a twelve-foot wide roadbed from the highway through the dunes towards the beach. Two dump trucks were feeding redwood chips to a second bulldozer, which was spreading the chips over the soft sand. “I have six divers coming in from San Francisco tomorrow morning,” I said, ” Jason will have the rigging frame out here about noon tomorrow. Work with the divers to get all the hoses, wiring and rigging hooked up the way they want. Eureka Boiler Works is fabricating the big pipe clamp and delivering it here in the morning. The fifty-ton all-terrain crane will be available after four-thirty, and you can have the forty-five-ton rig at noon tomorrow.”
Divers setting marker buoys at the break. The next morning all hell broke loose. The divers pulled into our yard in two vans with all their gear. They were a rambunctious collection of ex-Navy Seals, and they were eager to get started. Max took them out to the shop to inspect the rigging frame. They liked it, but they wanted to add this and that, move this over to there, and then they were satisfied. They gave Merlin, the warehouseman, a list of hoses, fittings, and rigging supplies they needed. They told our electrician how they wanted the electrical set up. They walked through the yard and choose the compressors and generators they required. They even commandeered my little skiff. Two of the divers headed into town to get additional gear and the other four followed Max out to the beach where they dove down to the pipe, got a good look at it and set marker buoys.
By the end of the day, everything was out on the beach, the preparations were complete, and we were ready for an early morning start.
Episode 3 of THE OUTFALL LINE by Jake
I rolled out of bed about four-thirty after a restless night. I had brazenly accepted the challenge of the dangerous operation I was facing that morning, but now that the moment had arrived, it was a different story. I thought about the many dangers related to this job. The rigging house could topple over if the sand floor shifted, and men could be killed or badly hurt. The divers could get trapped if the pipe clamp failed or if the temporary cofferdam breached. The deadly fumes from the effluent pipe could suffocate a worker. Anything could happen when you’re working ten feet below the surface of the sea. I put these thoughts out of mind, grabbed my Carhartt jacket and drove out to the Soma Peninsula to join my crew in the early morning darkness.
I pulled off the highway, drove down the chip surfaced road through the dunes, parked and joined the thirty man crew, an ambulance, fire truck and a roach coach. Max had thought of everything. We had our coffee and sandwiches, reviewed our plan as a group and waited for sun up. This was going to go well, I knew it.
We Moved the rigging frame & pipe clamp to the edge of the water and went to work just as the sky lightened. We had a two-hour window to get the pipe repair clamp in place and pour the concrete jacket. Every minute counted. The Coast Guard’s semi-inflatable was standing by in case a rescue was needed. It was also there to videotape the operation for the Inspector from San Francisco, who had just pulled up in his rental car.
Shorty, my rigging boss, sent his four riggers to the top of the frame, where they shackled the fame to the hook on the crane. He signaled the crane operator to lift it a few feet off the sand so they made a few adjustments with turnbuckles and come-along to get the bottom of rigging frame reasonably parallel with the slope of the beach. When they set it back down, the riggers shimmied down the steel posts and took their places at the corners of the rig, to man the taglines. An electrician fired up the big gen-set, and two more electricians climbed the frame to check out the panels and switches. When the fifth electrician connected the rig to a waterproof shore power panel, the lights came on and lite up the beach. Max shackled the back of the crane to the D8 bulldozer’s winch in case the crane got stuck and needed a quick tow.
Max shot a quizzical glance at me, I nodded my head, and he gave Shorty the sign to lift the rigging frame and head for the pipe leak. As the huge crane left the safety of the beach and rolled out into the surf, my heart was in my mouth. I thought, If one of cranes tires slipped into a quicksand hole and tipped over, somebody gets hurt. I no sooner had the thought when it happened, but the boys were ready for it, Shorty signaled the crane operator to quickly set the load on the beach and back out of the hole. He then directed the crane around the hole, and they made it safely to the break in the pipe. The divers directed Shorty where to spot the frame. As the crane extended its outriggers, the four-wheel drive backhoe took one more scoop of sand from the side of the now exposed pipe and backed away.
As soon as Shorty lowered the rigging frame into position, the carpenter crew worked with the divers to set a wooden cofferdam into the hole around the pipe. It would also act as the form for the pipe’s concrete jacket. The divers used powerful water jets to loosen the sand and powerful pumps to remove the sand/water mixture ahead of the crane, which was lowering the four fourteen foot high forms into the excavation with the main line. The backhoe returned with a vibrating hammer type pile-driving device on its boom and vibrating the form as it descended into place. As long as the pumps were running, there was a reasonably dry hole.
There was no time to waste. We had burned fifty minutes getting this far and only had a little over an hour to make the repair and get out of there. Max was standing on the rig giving orders left and right. A ten-man crew of divers and pipefitters worked as one and got the bottom half of the nearly half-ton steel pipe clamp in place using both the crane’s main and whip line to drag it under the pipe, lift it into place and hold it while the divers jetted and pumped the sand out of the way. I breathed a sigh of relief when the bottom of the clamp was in place. Thank God that’s done, I thought. If we can get the lid on and a few bolts in it, we’re golden and we’re gonna make it. The ironworkers blocked the bottom piece up with dunnage and cut the crane loose to rig and set the top half of the clamp on its mate. The sound of air guns rattling up the bolts was music to my ears.
I sent the crew back to the pulp mill to use their showers, clean up, get into dry clothes, and meet me at the Samoa Cookhouse for lunch. As the crew filed into the cookhouse, Max gave each of them a crisp, new one hundred dollar bill and thanked them for a job well done.
Four hours later, Max, two divers and I returned to the site. We sent the divers out in the skiff to anchor over the break and watch for leaks as we called Howard and told him to start slowly cracking open the beach effluent valve. We waited and observed for an hour, and there were no leaks. Then I went home and slept like a baby.
The next day Max returned with a crew and removed the rigging frame from the ocean, and restored the beach as my son Mike watched.
*** The end ***