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Boil order stays in effect in Tri-Town Water District

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Posted on December 20, 2016 |
By Andy Kirkaldy



ADDISON — After a series of incidents between this past Thursday and Monday that included two water main breaks and a power outage at the Tri-Town Water District plant, district officials on Monday afternoon asked their customers in Addison, Bridport and Shoreham to begin boiling drinking and cooking water.

District board Chairman Darwin Pratt said Tri-Town officials acted after a recommendation from state officials, who were concerned about the potential for contaminants to have entered the system while underground pipes were broken.

But Pratt emphasized the order was a preventive measure, and that there was not necessarily a problem.

“The biggest thing I want to emphasize is it’s precautionary,” Pratt said. “We just want to be sure people know about it.”

Pratt said some customers have called fearful that it might be dangerous to shower, for example, and he wanted to put those concerns to rest in a Tuesday morning interview, pointing out the limits to the order.

“Anything that’s drunk or cooked with should be boiled,” Pratt said.

State officials tested Tri-Town water on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Pratt said on Thursday afternoon the district's water had passed those tests. However, state officials told Pratt they wanted the boil order to remain in place until at least Friday morning. The Independent will update this story online on Friday.

“Hopefully tomorrow morning we'll know,” Pratt said. “The second test was just like the first one. We passed with everything.”

Pratt also said the Tri-Town water board had called a special meeting for this Thursday night to evaluate how the district should reach out to its customers in the event of similar future problems. He acknowleged district officials were unprepared for what was the first such crisis in Tri-Town's history.

"We need to do a better job. We know that now," Pratt said. "But for 50 years we've never had a problem ... We're going to try to figure out what the best way is.”

That meeting will include hearing from an expert in social media, he said.

Pratt also acknowledged that a number of customers had discolored water for a time, and that a few low-volume users might still be experiencing that problem. The fact there were two breaks made the issue worse.

“What happens is you get some sediment in the lines over the years, and if you get a break in the lines and shut the water off ... it's going to stir it up,” he said. “Any water district will have that problem.”

Pratt on Tuesday said the system was back up to normal operating status after events that also included a fire in Orwell, a car accident on Tri-Town Road in Addison that caused the power outage, the failure of the Tri-Town plant’s backup power system, and the temporary loss of service to Shoreham customers.

“This is the first time we’ve had anything like this,” Pratt said about the unusual combination of events.

The first sign of trouble came just after midnight on Thursday last week, when a customer called to say service was out. The district superintendent responded, Pratt said, and discovered the first — and more troublesome — leak, one large enough that the plant had to be taken offline.

“Sixty to 80 feet above the plant there was a major leak in the pipe. The pipe had split. We shut the plant down and got a crew in there the first thing in the morning and dug down and found the split. But there was so much water coming back through the pipe we had to get a couple pumps to pump it out so the guys could get down in there,” Pratt said. “So it was about 4:30 Friday night they actually got the repair done.”

In the meantime the second issue cropped up, a fire in Orwell to which the Shoreham Fire Department responded. That meant, Pratt said, the main Shoreham tank, which has to be filled to at least to a certain level to maintain customers’ water pressure, was being drained at the same time the plant was offline.

On Saturday, Tri-Town officials asked customers to limit water use, and customers in Shoreham lost service.

“They were pumping off some hydrants down there. It drew our tank really low down there. The two things happened at about the same time. So here we are with a tank that’s really been drawn down a lot, and we’ve got a main line which we can’t pump any water to the tank,” Pratt said. “So we tried to notify people to not use as much water. I guess Shoreham at one point was out of water.”

Then came more bad news — a car hit a Tri-Town Road power pole, and it proved to be the first in a row of dominoes.  

“On Saturday morning there was a car accident up near the water plant where a guy sheared off a light pole and consequently knocked the power out to the plant. We have a backup generator that automatically came on, but something malfunctioned there, and actually our panel boards started smoking and the fire department had to go down there,” Pratt said. “So we had to shut it down again because all our panels got fried.”

Electricians soon followed firefighters to the scene.

“They ended up bypassing stuff so we could get up and running again,” Pratt said.

But he said the electric panels are shot, and Pratt’s first stop after speaking to the Independent on Tuesday was a meeting with an insurance adjuster.  

Possibly because of the second outage, the final issue cropped up on Monday — a Route 22A water main broke at a saddle, which joins two pipes. Pratt can’t say for certain what caused the break, but thought the stress on the system from the prior few days might have played a role.  

“Then yesterday (Monday), we had another leak on 22A,” Pratt said. “I’m not sure with a lot of air in the pipe that’s what caused it, but a saddle broke up there, so we had to shut down the main line one more time.”

The second leak was fixed within a couple hours, Pratt said, but the series of unfortunate events drew the attention of state officials, who insisted on the precautionary boil order.

“Then about 4 o’clock yesterday we got a phone call from the state,” he said. “The water might be as good to drink as it has ever been, but with all these other things going on we definitely had to do that.”

Pratt praised Tri-Town workers for many extra hours late last week and over the weekend, and thanked Tri-Town’s neighboring water district for pitching in.

“Our employees have worked around the clock,” Pratt said. “And we also had some help from the Vergennes-Panton District. They’ve done a lot for us.”

Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]

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