Local News

The water main’s fixed, but who pays for repairs?

The Sawmill Creek Road waterline repair allowed Sitkans to run their taps without concern Thursday.

The Sawmill Creek Road waterline repair allowed most Sitkans to run their taps without concern Thursday.  On Wednesday, officials worried the city would run out of water.

7:45 p.m. Thursday update: Here’s details about today’s waterline break.  

It hit a Sitka neighborhood Thursday afternoon. It was in the Price Street residential area, above Sawmill Creek Road.  

Public works’ Nick Kepler says it affected about 25 homes. He says an old, rusted-out value broke.  

Repairs were expected to be completed tonight. Affected residents are being told to boil their water.

The Sitka Fire Department says the break was big enough to close part of the street. But it did not affect other parts of town.

***

3 p.m., Thursday: A Sitka official says the Sawmill Creek Road contractor is responsible for the cost of repairing Wednesday’s water-main break.

Sitka Public Works Director Michael Harmon says Anchorage-based Quality Asphalt Paving will be asked to cover the costs. City and company crews worked together to reach and fix the damage.

He says it’s at least the second time blasting has stopped water flowing from Blue Lake, Sitka’s water source.

“They are responsible, definitely in our mind. And we will be pursuing to recoup the funds, not only of our staff, but equipment and so forth,” Harmon says.

The company did not immediately respond to a call requesting comment.

Officials feared the community would run out of water this (Thursday) morning after the line from Blue Lake was damaged.

The contractor ruptured the line about 3 p.m. Wednesday while blasting rock. Water began flowing through the pipe again this (Thursday) morning after repairs were completed.

The city’s industrial park and some nearby neighbors were reconnected later because they’re supplied with a different pipe, which also broke. Users in those areas were advised to boil water during the next two days.

Harmon says the earlier contractor-caused water-main break took place in June.

He also says a September water-line break closer to town happened at the same time blasting took place. He says the explosion may have increased pressure, blowing out a weak, old pipe.

Officials on Wednesday asked residents to conserve water to slow the drain on Sitka’s storage tanks. They said the tanks held about a 12-hour supply.

Meanwhile, grocers saw a run on packaged water Wednesday night.

Max Rule is chief financial officer of the parent company for two Sitka stores. He says shelves were largely emptied of bottles, as well as gallon sizes.

“And interestingly enough, we also sold a tremendous amount of water containers. So I imagine folks were probably taking those containers and filling those up from the taps and getting stockpiled for the evening,” he says.

He says water is back on shelves today (Thursday).

***

10:20 a.m. Thursday update: Sitka’s water system is repaired. The main line is fixed and no other breaks were found.

Public Works Director Michael Harmon says city water may have some turbidity. But it’s treated and safe. He suggests running your cold water until it clears.

The Sawmill Cove Industrial Park is still without water. It could take until about 1:30 p.m. to fix a separate line to that area, plus the 2900 block of Sawmill Creek Road.

Once restored, water will need to be boiled before drinking during the following 48 hours.

Water conservation efforts are no longer needed, Harmon says.

***

8:35 a.m. Thursday update: Repairs to the known break in Sitka’s main water supply line are complete and it’s being pressurized. That will show if there are other leaks caused by Wednesday’s rock blasting, part of the Sawmill Creek Road reconstruction project.

Public Works Director Michael Harmon says water could still flow if small leaks are found. But another large line break will hamper efforts to fully restore the water system.

He says he’s optimistic, but residents, offices and businesses still need to use as little water as they can. That will extend the time when storage tanks run out.

Meanwhile, more blasting is scheduled for this afternoon and Sawmill Creek Road will be closed 3-4:30 p.m.

***

6:25 a.m. update: Schools will be open in Sitka this morning.

Repairs on the broken waterline continue and the city will pressurize the line around 8 a.m. Even if there are other breaks, officials expect they will be able to top off storage tanks, keeping the water system full.

Still, conservation is important, so keep water use to a minimum. There’s enough waterin the tanks now  to keep taps flowing through about 10 a.m.

***

12:30 a.m. update: There’s no word yet this morning on the status of Sitka’s water system.

The main line to town, as well as a separate pipe, were broken Wednesday. A Sawmill Creek Road contractor ruptured the lines while blasting rock during construction.

Repair crews were expected to work through the night at the scene, about 4 miles from the roundabout.

At about midnight, Public Works Director Michael Harmon said the main line could be pressurized by about 4 a.m. Water could flow soon after — or more breaks in the line could be found.

Water from storage tanks has kept the system going. Harmon warned it would run out sometime this morning. He asked residents to conserve water in every way possible to extend the life of the supply.

He said conservation measures could keep water flowing till about 11 a.m. If residents use water at their normal rate, it could run out by 7 a.m.

Schools Superintendent Steve Bradshaw said classes would be cancelled today if the break wasn’t repaired in time.

There’s no word yet on that decision. Other closures were expected.

We’ll let you know when we find out more.

***

9:50 p.m. update: Public Works Director Michael Harmon says he thinks repair crews will be able to fix Sitka’s main waterline before the city runs dry.

But if it can’t, “That means no restrooms, no ability to go to the bathroom, no drinking water.”

A crew reached the broken Sawmill Creek Road line before 9 p.m., but could not yet tell what needed to be done, he said. The rupture was caused by blasting conducted as part of road construction.

Sitka is depending on storage tanks for now. A computer projection estimated water would run out about 5:30 a.m. Thursday.

Harmon says low overnight demand would likely allow for more time. But he stressed the need to conserve water.

If repairs cannot be completed before the water runs out, he says the community will go into emergency mode. He didn’t have time to elaborate.

Earlier report: Sitka schools will cancel Thursday classes if the Sawmill Creek Road water-main break isn’t repaired by then.

Superintendent Steve Bradshaw says he’ll make the decision after checking on the water system’s status about 6 a.m. Thursday morning.

A construction worker watches as a backhoe digs into the area where blasting ruptured Sitka's main water line Wednesday.

A construction worker watches as a backhoe digs into the area of Sawmill Creek Road where blasting ruptured Sitka’s main water line Wednesday.

Municipal Public Works Director Michael Harmon says the Sawmill Creek Road contractor ruptured the main waterline to town while blasting late Wednesday afternoon.

He said storage tanks held enough water to last through about 5:30 a.m.

As of about 8 p.m. Wednesday, a backhoe was digging into the roadside about 4 miles from the roundabout. A pilot truck continued leading vehicles through the construction zone. Construction officials would not allow a reporter onto the site, other than to drive by.

Harmon says he doesn’t know the extent of the damage, but no water is coming into Sitka. He does not know how long repairs will take.

We will update this report as more information comes in.

 

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