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Posted on Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 6:01 p.m.

What's that smell on East Liberty? $1.2M sewer relining project

By Ryan J. Stanton


Crews from Belleville-based Utility Services Authority complete sewer lining work at the corner of Liberty Street and Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor today.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Wondering what that smell is in downtown Ann Arbor? Or what those crews are doing running big white tubes into the manholes along Liberty Street?

It's part of a $1.2 million project to reline city sewers, according to Igor Kotlyar, project management engineer in the city's public services administration.

Kotlyar said the trucks and equipment that have occupied Liberty Street since Wednesday are inserting a fabric material — mixed with different resins — into the existing stormwater pipes underground. He said the pipes are old and starting to crack, though not yet failing, and the new lining will make them last for another 15 to 20 years.


Crews are running big white tubes into the manholes along Liberty Street. They become a hard sewer lining after mixed with hot water and different resins.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Though soft when installed, the fabric lining hardens when mixed with resins and water, which is pumped from the city's fire hydrants through a boiler and, after reaching about 198 degrees, is sent into the manhole to complete the chemical reaction, according to workers onsite who explained the process to

"It opens it up to the diameter of pipe. In one day, we basically have brand-new pipe," Kotlyar said, acknowledging it does smell and produces a white steam.

"You don't want to breath in any of the stuff, but the steam is just from hot water," he said. "It just stinks basically. It smells like plastic. There's no dangerous chemicals."

The work is being done by Belleville-based Utility Services Authority, whose trucks were still out on Liberty as of 5 p.m. Thursday. Kotlyar said they'll be done Thursday night and won't be back Friday.

Liberty Street, which received new lining from Division to Main, is just one of more than 25 streets throughout the city where similar work is being done, including State Street. Kotlyar said both sanitary sewer and stormwater pipes were relined as part of the project.

"Liberty is just one of the parts. It's one of the last streets," he said. "We couldn't do it before because of the Big Dig — the construction out there on Fifth."

Kotlyar said the pipes being relined below Liberty Street are probably about 25 years old and measure 18 inches in diameter in some locations and 20 inches at other spots.

Benefits of the fabric-resin technology, he said, include that it's convenient, doesn't involve cutting up the street or doing excavation.

"I just think it's a really nice technology," he said. "It's not the first time we're using it, but it's definitely one of the nicer tools in our arsenal."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.


Silly Sally

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 2:07 p.m.

It would have been nice if the article had explained why this needs to be done afrter only 25 years. I am aware of pipes that are over 80 years old and have never been touched. Even if a pipe were to leak slightly, how is this much different from a septic system? What was done wrong initially back in the 1980s to warrant such a repair? Please, the rest of the story.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 10:33 p.m.

A septic system is usually in a lawn area where settling would not be a problem.

hut hut

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 1:17 p.m.

That's the smell of money and jobs.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 10:33 a.m.

I wonder how much of this project was redirected to the mayor and city council art fund? Maybe a sewer pipe art structure will show up soon, as a result.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 3:46 p.m.

to hut hut I would love to, but as long as the majority of Ann Arbor voters keep re-electing city council and our mayor, I am a minority. I can only voice my displeasure with the lack of visionary leadership for our city, the waste of hard earned tax payer money and our current leadership chasing personal projects versus those in the best interest of our city and it's future.

hut hut

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

You could always go to city hall and ask them in in front of the cameras at a council meeting. But, you're probably way too busy to do that.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 2:12 a.m.

Yummy, we couldn't tell what that nasty smell was.

Chase Ingersoll

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 12:30 a.m.

Hello?! If you are In your home and fumes are backing up into your house, the problem is with your p-trap. If it is not broken, all you have to do is fill the drain with water until the level is high enough to prevent fumes from coming up. If a drain is not used for a period of time, the water in the trap can dry up, and that is when you get the fumes. This is important, because you can just a easy get sick from normal fumes from a sewer pipe.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 10:30 p.m.

Never in my life have I seen an odor travel through water! Must be new science!


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 10:14 a.m.

Hello?! We did that.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 11:01 p.m.

The smell is styrene, which is a regulated air pollutant that is listed as a possible cancer hazard from long-term exposure to the uncured product. So no, you wouldn't want to breathe it in. They relined the pipes in Chelsea last week and the smell came into our house through the basement trap and lingered for 5 days. We were all lightheaded for the first day. Of course, no satisfaction from the city.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 10:35 p.m.

Every morning I drive Liberty from State to Main and have encountered absolutely incompetent flagmen who have no idea whatsoever they should be doing to direct traffic around this mess. Once more the city engineers and traffic folks have failed the citizens, whether on foot or (more risky) in their cars.

hut hut

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 1:14 p.m.

The flagmen work for the private contractors. How is it the city's fault that, in your opinion, and the 6 short blocks you drive on Liberty, the flagmen are incompetent? Maybe if the contractor paid higher wages they'd get smarter and more qualified workers? Maybe if the flaggers were public employees they would have received the training and known how to do their job after many years spent doing it. Maybe the city could spend more money and get better contractors? Everyone knows you get what you pay for. But some people either 1) think it's unnecessary that we repair our broken infrastructure and 2) don't want to pay taxes to get it done. Secondly, why is it more risky for people in their cars, surrounded by metal, sitting on a comfy seat listening to the radio, maybe eating some fries, than it is for pedestrians trying to cross the street in front of distracted frustrated and and angry drivers? Lastly, I guess it was so terrible that a few people had to spend a couple of extra minutes in their car.