M/clear
56°
M/clear
Hi 76° | Lo 55°

Public Works Employees Struggle to Find Source of W. Lebanon Water Main Break

Ed Dutile, of Lebanon’s Public Works department, pulls out a pump from a trench along Bridge Street in West Lebanon as workers attempted to find the source of the water main break yesterday. Several holes were dug but as of yesterday afternoon the location of the leak had not been found. The break was most likely due to old pipes, and accurate road plans were not available to aid works in finding the source. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Ed Dutile, of Lebanon’s Public Works department, pulls out a pump from a trench along Bridge Street in West Lebanon as workers attempted to find the source of the water main break yesterday. Several holes were dug but as of yesterday afternoon the location of the leak had not been found. The break was most likely due to old pipes, and accurate road plans were not available to aid works in finding the source. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

After digging a trench three cars long and 5½ feet deep and working for nine hours, public works employees were still struggling yesterday to locate the source of a water main break on Bridge Street that tied up traffic crossing between White River Junction and West Lebanon and caused nearby business to lose water.

Workers spent the morning digging a trench parallel to Bridge Street near Crafts Avenue to search for the broken pipe. By 3 p.m., the crew had found the pipe beneath 5½ feet of dirt, but they didn’t know the source of the leak. Traffic was reduced to a single lane across the bridge while work was done.

The department had learned about the leak after ice appeared on Bridge Street Tuesday night, which Public Works Director Mike Lavalla said often means there is a water main break under the surface. The water was tested and chlorine was found, which is a good indicator of a water main leak.

But once they knew the leak was somewhere, the challenge became finding it.

“We always hope that you can find the leak immediately adjacent to where it’s surfacing out of the ground, but sometimes it follows gravel and will surface in an area where it can get out,” Lavalla explained.

The public works crew began chasing the leak around 7:30 a.m. yesterday and were still at it at 6 p.m. Lavalla estimated that they would still be working for several more hours.

At about 5 p.m., water was turned back on in hopes that the leak would resurface and workers could follow it to the source. However, the leak had not reappeared by 6 p.m. and Lavalla said the crew began filling the trench they had previously excavated. If a the leak reappeared and water began filling the trench, then they would start chasing it again before calling it quits for the day.

If the leak didn’t reappear, then they would fill in the trench and place listening devices on the valves to help locate it before likely regrouping in the morning.

“We won’t just abandon it,” Lavalla said. “Hopefully there will be some evidence and we can get it fixed. If not, we’ll take it from there.”

As the sun went down and rush hour traffic began to pick up, a long line of vehicles came from West Lebanon’s Main Street, as well as from the Vermont side . Alongside traffic, workers stood on the edge of the hole and examined the milky water that collected at the bottom. Beneath inches of asphalt and rock, unstable pieces of muddy siding fell off and crumbled down into the trench.

One of the workers placed a wooden ladder in the middle of the trench and climbed down inside, his brown work boots sloshing in the sloppy mud and began digging around the pipe. He had a hunch that there might have been another pipeline connected to the line they had already found, but his effort yielded no results.

“What do you think?” he asked one of his co-workers.

“I think we’re going to have to try Seminary Hill,” the workman jokingly replied.

Nearby, Lake Sunapee Bank, Videostop, Carquest Auto Parts, Circle K and Expectations Salon & Spa were without water. Most of the businesses were operating as normal, except Circle K wasn’t offering coffee and couldn’t make new deli sandwiches. However, there were still french fries and bacon cheeseburgers set out, as well as ham and cheese sandwiches. The sandwiches that were sitting out had been prepared before the water was shut off, said Maya Theiss, who was working the cash register.

At Expectations Salon & Spa, Laura Seymour was getting ready to begin a color treatment on a client when a public works employee came into the shop at 2:15 p.m. and announced the city would be shutting off the water for the remainder of the day.

“We hadn’t put the color on yet, thank god,” Seymour said.

Without water, the salon could only offer waxing and men’s haircuts as long as the customer was all right with omitting the shampoo.

Seymour said she hadn’t been told when the water would be turned back on and said she and her boss are both completely booked with clients from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. today.

“If they don’t have it up tomorrow, then tomorrow is really going to hurt us,” Seymour said.

As of 6 p.m. yesterday, Lavalla had no estimate of when the break would be fixed, but said water would likely be turned off again to fix it.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.