Robot used to keep sewers safe in Michiana cities

NOW: Robot used to keep sewers safe in Michiana cities

DOWAGIAC, Mich. -- A robot and truck jointly purchased by the cities of Dowagiac and Buchanan is saving taxpayers money by providing an up close and personal look at aging sewage pipes.

“We can drive the camera right up to it and tilt the camera and examine that defect within inches,” said Dowagiac Assistant Public Works Director Mitch Billingham.

About two weeks ago, that’s exactly what the robot did when it found three gaping holes along a stretch of sewage pipe underneath Johnson Street in Dowagiac.

The street was immediately closed for repair because crews said it was on the verge of collapse.

City officials in Dowagiac and nearby Buchanan agreed to split the cost of the $150,000 truck and camera a few years ago, allowing each city to get it for six months each year.

The purchase was funded by collected sewer rates.

“Both of us were looking for vehicles at the same time and it just made a lot more sense for us to do one jointly,” said Dowagiac City Manager Kevin Anderson.

“It allows us to know the best way to spend our capital dollars,” Anderson said. “We’re not wasting resources in areas; we can identify the areas that are the biggest need and we can target funds on that.”

Crews are spending the summer in Dowagiac completing an entire sweep of the city’s sewage lines – which date back to the 1940s – to make sure anymore issues like Johnson Street can be addressed before something bad happens.

“By having the equipment ourselves, we can go out in the middle of the night if we have to, to inspect something, get a detailed estimate of where the repair, break, or problem is, locate it and know what we’re going to do to fix it,” said Billingham.

As they run the robot through each pipe, crews are also uploading information about the condition of each sewage line to a computer on board the truck.

Billingham said that will allow his crews to be able to access a database in order to keep track of pipe maintenance.

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