Marquette uses new tools to inspect sewers

Damage to underground structures like sewers and other pipelines may seem like it would be difficult to observe directly, but thanks to modern video and robotic technology, unseen mysteries can be revealed.

While it may look like something out of a science fiction movie, a device used by pipeline inspectors in the City of Marquette is very real and very useful.  A remote-controlled tractor, complete with an articulated video camera on its end, will be assisting the city in evaluating the status of sewage pipes through the end of July in a process inspectors call “televising.”

“The first thing it does is it measures the length between manholes, and it gives a location for each service from the manhole that we’re in, and the other thing that we’re looking for is any defects, cracks, pipe that’s pulled apart, joints that are broken, and stuff like that,” Tunnel Vision pipeline inspector Scott LaCombe said.

Inspectors rate the infrastructure on a scale of one to five based on their condition.  This provides a clearer picture of what needs to be done in some of the more unsightly underground locations that don’t often see the light of day.

“It actually just gives the City of Marquette a means of going, ‘Oh, we better replace this within the next five years, or we’ve got to replace this now’,” LaCombe added.

Pipes are scrubbed by a cleaning truck prior to running the camera through. Around 1,800 feet of pipe a day can be scrutinized by the remote device, which provides distinct advantages over older inspection methods. It even has an automated voice mechanism that helps describe what the inspectors are seeing.

“In the past, pretty much I think you went down there with a jet rod, and you know, (say) ‘Okay, the thing went all the way through. We see it in the other manhole, we’re good.’ You didn’t really have a means of looking at the pipe as a whole,” LaCombe said.

In addition to exploring different portions of subterranean Marquette every summer, inspectors also assist in locating service line freezes in the dead of winter, which helps prevent sinkholes. While you may not be seeing the movies taken by the futuristic equipment at a film festival any time soon, they’re certainly essential in keeping everything flowing in the right direction.