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Pamelia supervisor blames inferior pipe lines for water breaks

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Pamelia Supervisor Lawrence C. Longway is blaming the waterline breaks that occurred this week along Route 37, south of the intersection at Route 342, on what he calls “inferior pipelines” that were installed when the system was built in 2001.

Designed by Bernier, Carr and Associates, Watertown, the fairly new system already has had numerous problems caused by corroded ductile iron pipes that Mr. Longway said should never have been installed. The “class 50” series pipe that was installed has been particularly ineffective in the town’s swampland across from Willowbrook Golf Club, where the town paid about $100,000 in 2004 to repair three breaks.

“In 2004, we started having all kinds of problems with these pipes,” he said, noting that about 1,000 feet of heavy-duty plastic pipe was installed to solve the problem. “If our pipes were in good shape, this wouldn’t have ever happened, and it’s going to take a lot of money for the town to fix.”

Officials have speculated this week’s waterline breaks, which occurred Monday night and Tuesday morning, were caused by a construction company that improperly used a fire hydrant and created a “water jam.” But regardless of that theory, Mr. Longway said, the pipes simply aren’t durable enough to be located in wetland areas, where they’re vulnerable to corrosion.

This week, officials installed a pressure valve on the fire hydrant used by local construction companies to eliminate the risk of future water jams. But the section of waterline that originally broke in the area — about a quarter mile south Route 342 along Route 37 — now has to be replaced to avoid future breaks, Mr. Longway said. The town board will discuss how it plans to address the problem at its meeting in June.

Replacing the waterline could prove costly, as there are numerous driveways and lawns in the area to traverse .

Mr. Longway, who became town supervisor in 2004, said the town board failed to develop a water system with Bernier, Carr and Associates that was suitable for the town’s land. Residents in Water Districts 4 and 5 are still paying debt service on a 38-year loan for the project. Households in Water District 5 are paying $402 a year, while those in Water District 4 are paying $292; the rates are different because of the costs of the system in the two districts.

“The real problem is this: the town board relied on the engineering firm to put the right pipe in, and they didn’t do it,” Mr. Longway said. “This is a cheaper grade of pipe than what the city of Watertown allows. The idea was this (system) was supposed to last 50 years, and it’s only been 11.”

The city of Watertown requires ductile iron pipes to be at least “class 52,” which is thicker and more durable than the pipes that were installed in Pamelia. Gary E. Pilon, former city water department superintendent who retired in June, said the pipes were installed in the 1950s and haven’t had any problems.

But wetland areas like the land off Route 342 in the town of Pamelia may need stronger pipes to prevent corrosion, Mr. Pilon said. The pipe class determines the weight and fitness of the pipe, with lower classes offering lighter walls and thickness.

“In these marshy areas, the pipes corrode faster,” he said. “That’s why when we installed pipes in wetland areas, we wrapped them in polyethylene to minimize the exposure and risk.”

Sometimes if a municipality is planning a project under a tight budget, engineers will cut back on the quality of pipe to save money.

“It does sometimes come down to finances with towns and villages because they rely heavily on grant funding,” Mr. Pilon said. “Once you’ve established the price, you can’t go back to the well.”

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