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Orange construction blamed for exploding toilets, property damage

ORANGE — Half a dozen residents have complained to selectmen about exploding toilets, rusty water, property damage and inconveniences they’ve experienced as a result of the Hayden Street construction project.

The project was discussed at a public hearing on Wednesday about the town’s past and future community development block grants. Designed to replace mostly sewer, but also some water, and drainage pipes on Hayden Street, the project is being funded through the town’s 2011 Block Grant.

Dan Lawrence, a representative of the Weston and Sampson Engineers, attended the meeting and responded to resident’s questions and concerns. The firm was hired by Orange officials to design the project and oversee the project’s contractor, Morais Concrete Service Inc. of Springfield.

According to area residents, the problems began almost as soon as construction started this summer.

Nicole Bowers and Claire Tellier described the mess that was created when their toilets suddenly “erupted” with raw sewage that spilled onto the bathroom floor.

“You’re nicer than I am,” Bowers told Tellier, after Tellier described cleaning up the smelly mess herself. Bowers said she called Community Development Assistant Wendy Johnson and asked her who would be cleaning up the sewage as she wasn’t about to do it herself. Bowers said that Johnson arranged for a cleaner to come to her home.

Wastwater Treatment Plant Chief Operator Ed Billiel said the problem occurred when the contractors flushed the new sewer lines with water to rid them of debris. As the connection pipes to those homes are close to the main sewer lines, sewage and debris backed up into those lines into the toilets.

“I have never heard of this happening before,” said Billiel, whose department was not involved in the construction process.

Tellier, Bowers and Howard Gates also complained of ongoing problems with discolored tap water.

Gates held up a plastic bottle filled with brownish water. “This is what came out of my tap this morning,” he told selectmen.

Tellier said that clothes and some of her dishes have turned tan from washing them with tap water. “Are we just supposed to suck it up?” she asked.

Board members and Lawrence advised the neighbors to contact the Water Department as the selectmen have no authority over that department.

Water Department Superintendent Michael Heidorn, for his part, said Thursday morning he was not aware until the meeting that residents were still having difficulty with rusty water.

Heidorn said the contractors had inadvertently ruptured the neighborhood’s aging water system several times this summer as they used heavy excavation equipment to replace the sewer pipes. The water department installed a temporary main in the area while they worked to install a permanent replacement for that section.

Heidorn said the temporary main pipe created a dead end to the water system on Blodgett Street. The main breaks and the recent unexpected testing of one customer’s sprinkler disturbed the town’s water system, causing additional rust to appear at the end of the line.

Heidorn said Water Department personnel began flushing water from the pipes in Blodgett Street homes on Thursday morning. He said that water personnel have finished disinfecting the new main and are in process of sampling the water. By the end of next week, he hopes all problems related to the temporary main will be resolved.

Ball field damage

Walter Hurt also reported extensive damage caused by contractor’s vehicles and equipment at Lilly Park — the site of the Little League ball fields. He said that if town officials had not given permission for the contractors to park there, he would like the vehicles to be removed.

“That parking lot looks like hell ... it’s going to be bad in the spring. A lot of people gave a lot of time and free materials, and it looks terrible now.”

David Ames confirmed the damage to the park. He said when he was recently in that area, “When I saw all vehicles down there — I couldn’t believe how bad it was.”

Lawrence assured selectmen and Hurt that the contractors would be held accountable for fixing whatever property they had destroyed.

He told Hurt, “They’re going to restore it; they’re not going to fix it in the spring ... they’re going to fix it before they leave” in the fall.

He also told neighbors that while the entire project, including final road surfacing, may not be complete by the onset of winter, broken fences would be fixed, debris would be removed from driveways and road surfaces would be evened out this fall.

When asked whether he was happy with the services of Morais Concrete, Lawrence responded, “They’ve done some things well ... they were inexperienced with water. Are we extremely happy? No, but I’ve worked for 20 years (in this field) and this is not my worst experience.”

Bowers said her primary frustration was the lack of communication between the town and residents living near the construction. “I understand issues come up, but to not notify us — that was the biggest issue.”

Community Development Director Kevin Kennedy admitted that the town “could do a better job at communicating. We tried to distribute fliers but that didn’t cut it.” He said that informational meetings would be a better way to communicate with residents living near construction projects.

As the town will continue to apply for and implement block grants, Kennedy said he is always interested in hearing “how we can do projects better.”

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