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Longview utility worker, contractor point fingers about water main break

By Jimmy Isaac jisaac@news-journal.com
July 6, 2011 at 11 p.m.

Not I, said the road contractor.

Knife River Vice President of Operations Tim Driver said he has been told that a water main break during rush hour traffic Tuesday on Loop 281 at Bill Owens Parkway might not be the fault of a Knife River subcontractor. Instead, work crews at the scene say city utility workers incorrectly marked the spot for where not to dig by at least a yard.

Longview Assistant City Manager Chuck Ewings' response: Electrical subcontractor Wiley Construction Co. could have avoided striking a 12-inch water main simply by asking for the city's help, which is free of charge. While evidence of where markings for the water main were located is likely forever lost because of the damage, Ewings said contractors could have picked up the phone before they drilled into a water main in a densely populated location.

"We do offer that and try to ensure that a line is not going to be cut," Ewings said. "We want to make sure this doesn't happen."

Driver confirmed Wiley Construction is an electrical subcontractor on Knife River's $19.9 million widening project for Loop 281.

Wiley Construction, based in Paris, was not correctly identified in Wednesday's newspaper because of a source error. Attempts to contact Wiley Construction supervisors were not successful Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Wiley work crews were drilling a hole in the northeast corner of the intersection when they struck the main, sending mud, rocks and water streaming at least 100 feet into the air for more than an hour along the loop's westbound lanes. The incident reduced rush hour traffic on Loop 281 to one lane in each direction on a segment in which about 31,200 vehicles a day passed through in 2009, when the city last performed traffic counts.

"I was also told that Wiley Construction had the utility lines located and that this water line was not laid out correctly," Driver said. "The marking on the ground showed the line to be approximately three or more feet away from the location that was drilled."

Ewings said it is difficult to pinpoint markings directly over a water line. In the past on projects in high-density areas such as West Loop 281, city crews go to a location and show firsthand where utility lines are located. The city provided that service to Knife River and Wiley several months ago when widening of the eastbound lanes came in close proximity to a 20-inch water main, Ewings said.

The city also owns equipment that can locate a utility line underneath, and municipal workers were on call Tuesday for assistance, Ewings said.

When asked whether the city charges contractors a fee for the service, Ewings replied, "No, because we don't want our lines hit." Wiley did not contact the city to inquire about drilling locations prior to Tuesday's water main break, he added.

A city contractor repaired the line Tuesday, and Ewings said he will pursue Wiley Construction for a refund of those charges. By 2 p.m., a city employee was packing concrete around the repaired main as other municipal and Texas Department of Transportation employees plus passing motorists looked on.

Sharon Williamson, a realtor at Noon and Associates Real Estate firm, said at least two motorists had stopped by the business Wednesday and inquired where to go to redress vehicle damage they sustained when the main broke.

It was not immediately clear Wednesday where motorists should report damage to their vehicles from the water main break.

"They are welcome to contact us," the assistant city manager said. "That doesn't mean that we can honor their claim, but we might can help them with any claims they might have."

Williamson said that no cars at Noon and Associates were damaged; she suffered no water pressure loss at her home on Bill Owens Parkway not far from the break; and city, transportation and contractor crews completed repairs within 24 hours, though the parking lot was in wrecked shape.

Williamson lamented the lost treated water, however. The city released no estimates Wednesday on the amount of treated water lost during the break. Using a calculation of about 5,170 gallons of water per minute released from a 12-inch line, the city would have lost nearly 350,000 gallons of water in one hour's time.

"With water shortages and this drought, water shot out of there for more than an hour," Williamson said. "That's water that we need."



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