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Orange minimizes effects of water main breaks

ORANGE — Earlier this week, the outgoing voice mail message at the town’s water department alerted customers they might notice their tap water is lower in pressure or discolored due to water main breaks around Hayden Street where road and sewer construction are under way.

Despite multiple breaks in the water main as well as in several service lines leading to houses, there has been little disturbance to the town’s water system this week.

Water Superintendent Michael Heidorn said that while such breaches often cause such issues when “water gets stirred up in the system,” the department did not receive any calls from customers reporting these problems.

The break on Monday caused water to gush out of the 6-inch cast iron pipe at hundreds of gallons per minute, filling a 15-foot-deep trench within several minutes.

Heidorn said his staff worked nearly round-the-clock earlier this week replacing sections of the broken water main and service lines, then flushing and disinfecting the system to minimize the impact on customers.

Each break that occurred this week was repaired within 24 hours.

The handful of residents in the Hayden Street area experiencing a temporary shut-off for several hours while the lines were being fixed “have been very understanding and really nice about the whole thing,” he said.

But he cautioned the trouble is far from over in the construction zone.

As the water system around Hayden Street “is old and brittle and in close proximity to very deep excavation,” he said that breaks will continue throughout the construction process as the pipes endure further stresses over the next few months.

According to Heidorn, these costly water main breaks will continue unless water piping and valves are replaced in the area before construction resumes.

Heidorn estimates the cost of replacing that section of the town’s water system is $90,000. That figure is a significant expense for a town that has struggled in recent years to keep essential services and pay its bills.

But the cost of doing nothing may be many times more expensive. Heidorn estimates that repairs made on Monday alone will cost the town $5,000 to $10,000 in labor, materials and contract fees.

“Not to mention the risk to public health if contaminants enter the water system when pipes break,” he added.

The excavation, which is funded through a Community Development Block Grant was initiated several years ago to replace the leaky sewer system running 15 feet below Hayden Street.

While street and sidewalk resurfacing are part of this first phase of the construction, replacement of the water main running parallel to the sewer lines was not included in the original plan.

Several years ago, town officials and grant administrators at the Franklin County Regional Housing and Rehabilitation Authority, decided to postpone replacement of water lines in favor of replacing more linear feet of the ailing sewer system, which Orange is under state order to upgrade.

Heidorn said the full cost of replacing water pipes and valves in the construction zone will be split between his department, the highway and sewer departments. He and other town officials are still working out who will pay for this week’s repairs.

Town Administrator Diana Schindler said the situation demonstrates why it’s important for officials and taxpayers to “invest our money wisely… If we do it well the first time, then we won’t have to go back” to fix the older water lines.

“It makes no sense to tear up the new road construction because we put some sort of (bandage) on the problem to get us through the construction process,” said Schindler.

“We need to stop throwing good money after bad, it may take more money up front, but in the end it will save us money,” to replace the water system in the construction area.

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