Mushy mystery in Ocean Park
Ocean Park, over the last few summers, appears to be more aptly named than originally intended.
Soggy, mushy ground and even standing water in some parts of the park have prompted the town to hire an engineering firm to examine the system of irrigation pipes and wastewater leaching fields under the park. Town officials are hopeful these steps will solve the mystery of what is making the town's picture postcard common a little too much like an ocean, and not quite enough like a park.
Treated wastewater that flows into underground leaching fields may be the issue.
"I'm not all that sure what's going on down there," said wastewater plant manager Joe Alosso. Mr. Alosso and other town officials are careful to offer assurance that there is no health risk because of the excess water in the park.
When wastewater leaves the Pennsylvania Avenue plant, after passing through a series of treatment systems, it is clean enough to pass federal Clean Water Act standards. "That doesn't mean you would want to drink it," said Mr. Alosso, "but it meets the standards for drinking water. Once it leaves the plant, it flows by gravity to a pumping station under Veira Park. From there it is pumped to leaching fields under Ocean Park. There are 28 leaching fields, each a bed of crushed stone 50 feet by 100 feet, about one foot below the surface of the park. Wastewater is pumped into the leaching fields, and drains down into the groundwater system. The leaching system was designed to accept 370,000 gallons per day, but is not operating near that point of capacity. According to Mr. Alosso, on the busiest day of the year so far, 230,000 gallons were pumped into the Ocean Park leaching fields, less than two-thirds of capacity.
Over the latter part of the summer, the town conducted an experiment in Ocean Park. Data loggers were installed to measure the amount of water coming into the park. Irrigation was turned off for three weeks, then the normal schedule was resumed for three weeks. An engineering firm is now studying the data, taking into account rainfall and other seasonal climate conditions, to figure out what is causing the mushy ground. Mr. Alosso expects results from those tests within a week or two.
If there is a problem with the leaching fields, they may need to be modified or replaced. Mr. Alosso is considering modifications to just four of the 28 leaching fields. The improvements could involve devices known as infiltrators, essentially a large half pipe buried underground. The infiltrators are installed with the open part of the pipe downward. The space allows more water to gather and percolate downward into the soil. Another solution may be to reduce the amount of treated wastewater pumped to Ocean Park, but that might require the district to expand to other leaching fields. There is also the possibility of a malfunction in the pumping station under Veira Park.