By Lisa Loomis
A contractor working for VTrans broke a 14-inch water main in Waitsfield leading to two days of no water for water system users, followed by three days of a boil water order.
A contractor, working on the bridge over Route 100 immediately south of Armstrong Road, punctured the water main mid-afternoon on September 4. Efforts to repair the water main were complicated by the fact that the parts needed for a permanent fix were unavailable and so a temporary fix was required.
Initial reports were that the water would be back on by the end of Thursday, but that stretched into Friday and finally 6 p.m. Friday night. The town engaged a truck of potable water to be available in Village Square Shopping Center by Friday late afternoon.
The lack of water forced Waitsfield Elementary School to close along with several businesses such as Sweet Pea Natural Market & Cafe and several hair salons. Other businesses such as The Mad Taco and Three Mountain Café were impacted by the lack of water.
Joey Nagy, owner of The Mad Taco, told the members of the Waitsfield Water Commission at an emergency meeting this week that he lost about $5,000 worth of business due to the shutdown.
While the cause of the break is known – a contractor drilled through the water main – it is less clear how the contractor received the wrong plans depicting locations of the town's infrastructure.
The town's engineers met with the water commission at the emergency meeting this week and explained that the as-built plans for the water system that they had filed with the state showed the water main in its actual location. It is less than clear how VTrans provided the contractor with the wrong plans.
Water commission members spent time parsing the impacts of the break on system users, with commissioner Ted Tremper suggesting, "It was an accident. The contractor drove into a pipe. Why does everyone have to be so pissed off about it? Let's add up the losses and provide them to the responsible party to pay for them and be done."
Commissioner Bill Parker took issue with Tremper's attitude and suggested that the financial impact on affected business was significant and to have to shut down school is a serious problem.
"We have to make sure this doesn't happen again, and we have to find out where else the as-builts don't match. We have to prepare for future breaks," Parker said.
"You've been on this commission since day one. Why haven't you already done this?" Tremper asked.
"You can't understand. You didn't have to shut down your business for three days," Parker responded.
"I'm crying. Let's add up the losses and move on. Let's not keep crying about it," Tremper said.
Discussion moved on to the specifics of what happened with engineer Robert Clark explaining that the temporary repair took longer than expected because of working next to the river.
"You have ground and surface water to deal with. You have to communicate with the different entities involved, the water commission, the repair contractors, the state and the supplier. It takes time to line those things up. This was a specialty repair involving a stream crossing. It requires specialty work and the repair contractor could have done the final fix if they'd been able to get the parts, but they're special order," Clark explained.
Town resident Jerry Miller asked why the town had handled the repair and town administrator Valerie Capels said that it was her decision and that she had called Kingsbury Construction as soon as she called the water operator, Simon Operating Systems.
Commissioner Pete Reynells said that he discussed the issue with the contractor who showed him a map with the incorrect pipe location that he had received from the state.
"He laid out for us, based on what his map said, that he was 12 to 14 feet away from the pipe," Reynells said.
"The map the contractor had shows the water line in the wrong location," Clark confirmed.
"But how did the state get the wrong information?" Parker asked.
"I hate to speculate on where they got their information. That information is not what we submitted and not what we had approval for from them," Clark said.
"The pipe is exactly where the permitting plan says it is?" Tremper asked.
"Yes, the same alignment," Clark said.
"I spoke to the state's contract manager about this. What the state would like to see moving forward is the water line moved as far away from the bridge as possible so that they can complete their bridge rehabilitation project," he added.
"To do that would require a right of way from Armstrongs," said commissioner Scott Kingsbury.
Clark told the commission that the state had been out last year to evaluate that site and that they (water system operators) had marked the location and he had reviewed it. The state did test borings at that time and did not drill through the pipe.
"Was the town contacted about the bridge work?" Miller asked.
"This spring, I went out and marked the line," said system operator Nate Fredericks.
"It is likely that we're going to see this again if somebody has the wrong drawings or fails to call Dig Safe. There's nothing in here that says we're going to review all the drawings that the state has," Parker said.
"Not to alarm you," said engineer John Kiernan, "but your plan has a power pole shown as a new utility that was called without anyone contacting the town. When VTrans hires a contractor, they are responsible for contacting Dig Safe. They had a plan that showed the pipe 20 feet away. With this project, it was the responsibility of VTrans to locate the infrastructure. VTrans has a very formal process for doing that. They followed that process in 2013 and did not hit the water line."
The costs of the temporary repair are not yet known, nor are the costs of the final solution. The commissioners asked the engineers about the transition from temporary to final fix and how that would impact users. They were told that the minimum amount of time users would be without potable water would be 48 hours. The repairs could be done relatively quickly – and possibly done at night to lessen the impact on businesses – but the system would be under a boil water notice until 48 hours had passed.
The commission decided to pursue a repair option that involves seeking a right-of- way easement from the Armstrong family rather than a repair option that would return the water main to its previous location because permitting for the previous location would take longer.