Cities cooperate to buy robotic sewer camera

By: David Wallace | Farmington Press | Published September 7, 2011

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FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — Communities combine services and collaborate in many ways, though its seldom attention-grabbing or sexy.

A recent example is about as unsexy as it gets, but it is a way to share costs.

The Farmington and Farmington Hills city councils in separate meetings last month approved purchasing a robotic sewer camera.

The new camera — actually a refurbished demonstration model, to save money — costs $36,500. Farmington Hills is contributing $21,500, while Farmington is contributing $15,000, plus the trailer and some equipment to run the camera, a contribution the cities agreed is worth $6,500. Farmington will store the camera and provide the insurance coverage. The two cities agreed to evenly split any costs for camera maintenance or repairs.

The cities will be able to put the camera into sewer lines to diagnose problems.

“As our infrastructure gets older in the city, it’s aging and deteriorating, and it’s increasingly important that we use the most economical way to maintain it and to repair it,” said Kevin P. McCarthy, Farmington Hills Division of Public Works superintendent.

“Right now, we have a lot of storm sewer pipe in the city that’s very old,” said McCarthy. “And as that has deteriorated, we have two options. You cannot crawl through some of these smaller pipes to repair these, so we dig it up, see what we have underneath, which is labor-intensive and very destructive to the roads and driveways in the city.

“The other option right now is that we borrow a camera from the city of Farmington. They have a very old, very antiquated sewer camera that actually does not operate itself. You have to pull it through,” said McCarthy.

That means that if the pipe is completely blocked, the camera can’t be used. The other limitation is that it records to VHS tapes. The new camera makes digital recordings.

“Because it’s an old piece of equipment, they send staff with (the camera). So they take two or three of their staff to come and look at our sewers,” McCarthy said. “With their staff reductions, that really crimps their operations.”

Farmington Hills had money in its budget for a camera. Farmington also planned to get a camera, possibly a used one.

“We put our heads together and came up with a joint purchase of a camera,” said McCarthy.

Farmington found a refurbished demonstration model that offered “considerable” savings, McCarthy said.

“We use it for our sanitary sewer (and) some storm sewer. They would use it primarily for the storm sewer system,” said Farmington City Manager Vince Pastue. “The old camera’s about 25 years old, and to purchase a new one would cost us about $60,000.”

However, the old camera paid dividends this summer.

On Brittany Drive, near 11 Mile and Farmington, a storm sewer kept getting clogged, though the city unplugged it numerous times. So Farmington Hills used Farmington’s camera and found a “nick” in the pipe — not a major problem. So instead of digging up the whole pipe, Farmington Hills workers were able to use a hand shovel to dig right to the trouble spot.

“We knew exactly where it was, exposed it, patched it, and we were out of there in a couple of hours, instead of several days and tearing the whole thing up,” McCarthy said.

Farmington Hills staff will be able to use the new camera without Farmington staff. The camera comes with a six-month warranty and staff training.

Farmington Hills has made use of another government’s camera, too. The Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office has a camera that Farmington Hills has rented with staff for sanitary sewer inspections.

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