Water main repair could take weeks

Water main repair could take weeks

February 25th, 2011 by Kate Belz in News

Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press Rick Stephens, left, and Lamar Jenkins of TAWC operate a water valve at the intersection of Cowart and Main streets on Thursday. Trucks seen in the background are parked at the Cowart Street location where a 24-inch water main was broken by a fiber-optics crew on Wednesday.

Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press Rick...

As workers in Chattanooga's Southside district mopped up water that spilled from a broken water main into their businesses Wednesday and Thursday, many wondered who would foot the bill for damage.

"We shouldn't have to pay for this," said Ty Cooper, who owns Main Street Warehouse near the corner of Main and Williams streets. "This will be a big expense for a small-business owner like us."

The warehouse basement flooded more than 10 inches deep, elevator cables are sitting in water, and one tenant's toilets overflowed with sewer water twice after water from the broken main poured down the street's storm drains.

Tennessee American President John S. Watson said Thursday it could take two to three weeks to repair the damaged 24-inch transmission main, which ruptured Wednesday morning when it was struck by an AT&T subcontractor drilling near the intersection of Cowart and 14th streets.

The water company reported that crews finished shutting off the water pouring into the main at 5 a.m. Thursday, although water flowed down Cowart Street the rest of the day because of a cracked valve, Watson said. After the water is completely turned off and the company deems that the area is safe for workers to dig, they'll start repairs, he said.

The pipes are made from pre-stressed concrete cylinders, and though they are about 50 years old they were in good condition, Watson said.

He said damage to the main -- which runs from the treatment plant off Amnicola Highway to Rossville -- was like "slitting an aorta," and he compared shutting off the 40 valves that fed the main to a surgical process.

"It isn't like flipping a switch," Watson said. "We had to maintain water for our customers throughout the city while finding ways to reroute its path."

Though many businesses experienced periods of extreme low pressure Wednesday, Watson said businesses should be back to their normal pressure today.

Tennessee American treated and processed 60 million gallons of water Wednesday to supply customers throughout Hamilton County on Wednesday, compared to 35 million to 40 million gallons on a normal day, Watson said. The cost of the extra 25 million gallons hasn't yet been estimated, though Watson said production costs alone exceed $700 per million gallons.

Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press Servpro employees work Thursday to clean up water that came up through the toilet at the Townsend Atelier in the Main Street Warehouse building, flooding the business. The crew was cleaning up from Wednesday's incident when water began gushing from the toilet again Thursday. The business owners believe the overflow is caused from water flowing into storm drains from the nearby water main break on Cowart Street on Wednesday.

Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press Servpro...

AT&T said it couldn't yet determine who will be financially responsible for the damage.

"AT&T can't speculate on the claims until we have the facts, until our investigation into the root cause of this break is complete," company spokeswoman Cathy Lewondowski said. She said the company can't start working on that until Tennessee American Water has made its repairs.

Utility companies are required to check for water lines before they dig, and Watson said that the lines had been clearly marked on Cowart before AT&T's subcontractor, Klein Enterprises, began the dig.

AT&T's downtown drilling was part of a project to install 160 miles of fiber-optic cable from Chattanooga to the Murfreesboro, Tenn., area that has been under way since August.

"We've halted efforts on this local project until we can find the root cause of what happened," Lewondowski said.

Chattanooga officials also are concerned about damage to streets, sidewalks and sewers, Public Works Administrator Steve Leach said. He said the city will assess its damage before deciding whether to seek a settlement from AT&T.

"You just don't realize just how much peripheral, long-term damage could come from this," he said.

Leach said a portion of the sidewalk in the area of the break has been lifted up, and that part of the street's base could have been eroded by the water.

For some businesses, the biggest damage will be to their revenue.

"We've dealt with a depressed economy. We shut down for days from the snowstorms. ... And then all of the sudden this happens. It's grinding, to say the least," said Nick Kyriakidis, owner of Niko's Southside Grill on Cowart Street.

The restaurant is open, but accessibility is bad, he said as he gestured to empty tables in the dining room.