Sewer work is a dirty job

But the somebody who has to do it takes pride in his task

Climbing down a manhole, Mike Frazier pauses for a moment to reflect.

"Just think, if you're a 10-year-old kid, what would you rather do than crawl into a hole?" the supervisor of the Craig Wastewater Plant says before disappearing into the dark.

It was Thursday afternoon, and Frazier was doing sewer detective work. Some motor oil had turned up in the city's wastewater, and Frazier was trying to find the source of the pollution.

He emerged from the manhole, rubber gloves and overalls spotted with sewage. After working for Craig's Wastewater Department since 1983, a little sewage doesn't faze him.

"To me, it's no different that rainwater," Frazier said.

His plan was to find the person or persons who dumped the oil down the drain and let them know that their actions could be polluting the drinking water for people downstream of the Yampa River.

Oil gets into the wastewater from time to time. It typically is not there for malicious reasons; rather, people are ignorant about what they're doing, Frazier said.

Frazier had climbed down the manhole to remove some soapsuds that he worried would block the lens of the camera he was using to "TV" the drain. The city bought a camera for the sewers this year. It's mounted on tracks that can be adjusted to the size of the sewer pipe.

Frazier operates the camera with a remote control computer system inside a truck used only for viewing the sewer.

Frazier never thought he'd be working for the sewer department. He attended college at San Diego State University, where he majored in physics and minored in mathematics, because he wanted a challenge.

That would prove to be the same reason he took a job at the Wastewater Department.

During college, Frazier worked at Anderson Camp near Gypsum and after graduation he became director of the camp's Wilderness Pioneer program. The campers rafted, climbed mountains, spelunked and rode horses, but they also cooked their own meals, did the dishes and laundry, and maintained the vehicles.

"They learned to be self-sufficient, and the staff was just there to assist the kids," Frazier said.

For Frazier, directing the camp wasn't just a life changing experience; it was "life defining."

Frazier met his wife, Debbie, at the camp, and they moved to Craig in 1977 to open a restaurant and capitalize on the booming economy. They opened a Mexican eatery named Desperado, and for the next two years they worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day, even though they were only open five days a week and then just for dinner.

But Debbie had a teaching background and soon started teaching again. She still teaches fifth- and sixth-grade science and reading. Frazier talks about his wife's teaching with pride, describing the outdoor club she formed and her ecology course, which includes a camping trip to Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, where the students receive instruction from U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Colorado Division of Wildlife officers.

When Debbie went back to teach, Frazier took a job in the city Water Department because he needed work. Three years later, he moved to the sewage department, where he says he would be content to stay until he retires.

"After a while, it becomes like an old friend," Frazier said.

Sixty miles of sewer crisscross under the streets of Craig, and 2,000 manholes provide access. But on Thursday, Frazier was focused on finding the person who had dumped oil into one section of it.

He ran the camera up the sewer pipe to check on a business he suspected might have dumped the oil. If the business's drains were covered in black, he'd know who it was.

But the camera didn't show any signs that the business in question had dumped the oil. The next day, Frazier returned to the business to apologize.

But the business owner surprised him by admitting he'd done it. An accident had occurred, and he had taken precautions so it wouldn't happen again.

It made Frazier proud to live in the community of Craig. The business owner could have said nothing, and Frazier and his staff never would have been the wiser.

"Craig has just wonderful people that live here. It's so terrific being part of the community," he said.

Working at the sewer provides Frazier with a service job that protects the environment and keeps people healthy. He boasts that the treated water is as crystal clear as water in the Bahamas.

If you take a look at the treated water as it re-enters the Yampa River, you'll find that he's right.

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