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Water tank leak adds to Havre Public Works' winter-weather efforts


March 14, 2019

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Public Works Director Dave Peterson and engineer Jake Neil inspect the failed manway on the exterior of a leaking water tank Tuesday in Havre.

Havre Public Works is now looking at repairing a water tank leak that shut down several streets in town, on top of continuing to deal with severe weather that hit in February.

Public Works Director Dave Peterson said that the east water tank is now completely drained, although there is no definite timeline for when it will be repaired or cost estimation for the project.

"That's kind of where we are at right now," he said. "It just kind of, you know, everybody's got to take their assessments of what's going on with it and, you know, figure out what we can do to get it back into service."

He said an engineer inspected the tank Wednesday and now the city is waiting for a contractor to come up and provide an estimate.

The leak started because the lid of the new manway - a metal access port - installed during Phase Two of the maintenance plan last year shifted, causing water to drain out, he said. He added that the city still has no idea why the manway shifted, with a variety of factors possibly causing the leak.

Peterson said the manway that shifted was a new addition to the water tank, which the city was required to install during the maintenance plan and was made in a different style to the previous one.

"We really don't know what happened until we can see everything," he said.

He said that he has not heard of any reports of property damage related to the water from the tank, although if property owners who saw damage can file a claim with the city's insurance.

Most of the water was contained in the right-of-way, he said. The department saw some overflow on the sidewalks but the bulk flowed into the storm drain system. He added that the city was lucky that it happened once the weather got warmer - it could have created much worse conditions in negative temperatures.

He said now that the tank is empty, it has aerated, causing ice to build which will have to be dealt with in order to make repairs and to further inspect the manway.

"We don't have any idea of a timeline or anything like that. We want to get it back in. (We will do it) as soon as we possibly can," he said.

The repair would fall under the city maintenance budget, he said, although, depending on the complexity of the repairs, it could be covered by the warranty of the manway at no cost to the city.

Or, it could cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair, he said, which the city doesn't have in its budget.

Frost causes problems

He said even without the water tank leak it has been a rough month for Havre Public Works. February had many water line breaks in the city.

"We thought we were going to escape with a good winter until the first of February," he said.

The month ended up the second-coldest on record in north-central Montana, and Havre saw its fourth-highest accumulation of snow, 17.5 inches, for the month this year.

Water main breaks are not unusual during the winter, Peterson said, but within the past month-and-a-half Public Works has seen an unusually high number of them.

He added that he doesn't know an exact number, or the exact cost of these breaks at this time, but the deep frost in the ground caused a large number.

There are a number of aging pipes, he said, but Public Works saw nothing significant until February, when four to five feet of frost in the ground under the roadways caused breaks.

A few water main breaks during the winter is not uncommon, but his department typically deals with fewer than 10 breaks over the course of the year.

The rise in these breaks this winter was not only felt in Havre but all across the state, he said, with areas like Great Falls, Big Timber and Red Lodge seeing a similar increase.

Another problem people have had is the water lines going into their residences freezing. Peterson said the best thing people could do to prevent that is to let a trickle or drip of water run from a faucet. This may be more expensive on the water bill, but can save people not having to pay for water line repairs.

Even with the warmer weather approaching people should still be running their water because there still is a chance for lines to freeze, he said.

"Don't turn that water off, you know, because you think it's warm outside," he said. "Give it at least a couple weeks, you know, of this weather being like this, that's a recommendation."

The frost in the ground by the roadways is estimated to be deeper than four feet, he said, and in snow-covered areas, such as yards, it still could be approximately a foot deep. This frost will take time to warm up and work itself out of the ground, he said, and could still cause water line to freeze.

The reason the frost is much deeper on the roadways is that the traffic pushes the frost down deeper into the ground, he said.

Snow acts as insulation, helping to keep the ground warmer and the frost at a minimum, he said. Although it is nice to clear the roadways during the winter, he said, the frost usually gets so deep it takes a while for it to warm up enough to be worked out.

He said this year he also expects more potholes because of this.

"That's the one thing that we'll see now is, you know, with the weather getting warmer and the water on the streets, ... the water is going to get under the streets," he said. "If it freezes, it's going to create potholes."

He said the department hasn't seen anything yet but is likely to start seeing it in the coming month.

"We are going to see as much, if not more than last year," he said. "We'll be busy."

People should keep a lookout for potholes and drive safely, he said. Public Works will try to get out there as soon as streets get dry enough to fill the potholes, he added.

It might have been a longer winter last year, but there was more snow coverage and the temperatures were significantly warmer, he said.

The cold weather is much harder on everything, he added.

Department budget

Last year, the city was pretty tight within its budget, he said, but the city was able to move money around within its budget to cover costs.

Maintenance and gas for equipment usually takes up a lot of the budget, and costs even more when repairs need to be done, he said.

"I would probably say we are going to be, you know, if I'm just going to try to project, we're probably going to be in the ($30,000)-to-$34,000 range this year," he said. "It might even be around $36,000 by the time we're done."

Big expenses to the department every year is maintenance on equipment, he said, and over this past year the jackhammer has broken down twice, with the city still waiting on parts to repair it.

"It's hard to have that piece of equipment down," he said.

In the future, the department will be looking to replace the 15-year-old piece of equipment, he said.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Havre Public Works Department employees work on fixing a water main break that occurred on Ninth Avenue during temperatures lower than minus 40 degrees Feb. 8 in Havre.

Peterson said that his department planned on having 67 percent of its budget left at the end of February, but ended with approximately 55 percent. He said some of this is because the city had to hire contractors due to the high number of water breaks, which they normally would not do.

"Overall, we are sitting pretty well. With what we have done with snow removal, we had a lot more last year than we did this year," he said.

He added that he is proud of the work his department did during the month of February.

"When we get calls for water breaks, our guys are out shutting it off at 2 in the morning," he said. "They are out working in that weather when it's, you know, 20 below and things like that. Our guys really, you know, stepped it up. When we needed work done they were out there getting it done."

Peterson added with the warmer weather will cause more slush, water and slick areas that people should be careful of.

"The only good thing about slush is that it means the warm weather is coming," he said.


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