UNION BRIDGE -- After repeatedly wresting flushed underwear from aging sewer pumps, the plant operator is airing the town's dirty laundry in public.
Hoping to shame the "flusher" into discontinuing the dastardly deed, Fred Haifley is hanging the recovered rags for all to see. A least a dozen sundry undergarments dangle from rods above the dry well in the pump house.
"I want people to see the nasty nature of their actions," said Mr. Haifley, who has managed the plant for the past three months.
Someone might recognize the clothing and reveal the flusher's identity, he said. So far, the only concrete evidence is the person's preference for size 36 briefs.
Elastic from underwear wraps around the pump's internal rods and causes a backup in the system. In hip boots, Mr. Haifley wades into the blockage and tears the pump apart.
"I have to put my whole arm in the pump and wrench the rags
out," he said, calling himself a 'hands-on-and-in manager.' It's noisy, dangerous work."
The rags affect the already precarious balance of power among the 30-year-old plant's three pumps, which he calls "No. 1, No. 2 and a bunch of rust."
"The equipment is old and delicate, and I have to be careful the rods don't break off," he said. "I have had few joyous days here, where things flowed smoothly."
Those days are getting fewer, as what used to be a weekly problem becomes almost a daily one.
"The last pair of Hanes [size] 36 came in with a safety pin on the crotch, as if he, or maybe she, had sent me a note," he said.
Even worse, copycat flushers are cropping up and clogging the system more.
"Two pairs of underwear Saturday, a heavy T-shirt Sunday," he said. "I think a little education is in order."
When a motley-green bandanna wrapped around the rods, Mr. Haifley decided to let it all hang out. All that unclogging takes away from his work to upgrade the plant.
The solution lies in modern technology -- a Gorman-Rupp T-series sludge pump, which costs $5,000. The manufacturer has offered the town a 5 percent discount, "out of pity," Mr. Haifley said. "This is the Miss America of pumps," he said enthusiastically. "It is so glamorous it will become the showcase of the plant."
Once it is installed, Mr. Haifley can thumb his nose at the phantom flusher.
"A Miss America [pump] is self priming and never clogs," he said.
The Town Council, at Monday's session, delayed action on the pump purchase until it receives a report from the state Department of the Environment.