Cost of repairs ‘unreal, astronomical,’ district chief says

Last updated: January 14. 2014 5:13PM - 840 Views
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McDOWELL — Ten days after a rash of weather-related problems saw nearly half its customers lose service, Southern Water and Sewer District was confident Tuesday that nearly all affected customers would see service back to normal by the end of the day.

Southern Water manager Hubert Halbert said Tuesday that most of those who had been affected by water outages had been restore. At the outage’s peak, 3,000 of the utility’s 7,300 customers were without water. By Tuesday morning, that number was down to about 150, and Halbert said he hoped to have the remaining customers restored by the end of the day.

However, Halbert said additional problems could delay getting service back for everyone.

“We could tell them that it will be back on in four hours, and it should be back on in four hours,” Halbert said. “However, we might turn the water back on and find another leak somewhere else. That’s what we’ve been running into.”

Halbert said the subzero temperatures brought to the region by the so-called “polar vortex” were not main culprit in causing the outages. Instead, he said it was the warmer temperatures that followed.

“The freeze didn’t bother us,” Halbert said. “It was the thaw that got us.”

He explained that the ground shifts as it thaws, which can cause pipes to break.

Problems began Saturday, Jan. 4, when a 12-inch water main near Allen broke. Halbert said that break was repaired by the next day, but when the water was turned back on, another break occurred.

That scenario replayed itself over and over, Halbert said, with lines breaking faster than crews could repair them. As a result, many customers were left without water for over a week. Compounding the problem was that river ice got into the utility’s intake valves.

“Ice got in there and messed everything up,” Halbert said.

Halbert said the problems were not isolated to Southern, as utilities in Johnson, Knott and Perry counties were also struggling with widespread outages.

Now, as Southern finishes fixing the last of the outages, the utility now faces the dilemma for how to pay for the repairs. Halbert described the cost of parts for the repairs as “unreal” and the amount of overtime labor involved as “astronomical.” He said he is hoping from some form of relief from the state.

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